We know global climate change is a real thing, and it’s going on right now. But do we know the science behind it and the effects it has on the people producing our food?

In 2012, the U.S. Department of agriculture released a new Plant Hardiness Zone map. This was the first new map since 1990, and it included two new zones for areas where the minimum temperatures now never get below 50 and 60 degrees. This means the hottest zones are now even hotter. How did this happen? The short answer is there is too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is a ratio of 350 ppm (parts per million); we’re at 400 ppm, and at our current rate we’re adding 2 ppm every year.

If this isn’t proving problematic to you yet, consider the fact that the earth’s atmosphere has contained 275 ppm of carbon dioxide since the beginning of human civilization and it only began to rise during the 18th century, during the Industrial Revolution. So not only did we shoot way above a safe amount of atmospheric CO2 in a very short amount of time, but it’s only going to go up from here. With that information, it’s hard to tell exactly how this obvious change affects you personally. And it’s true; the effect probably doesn’t directly have too much to do with you (yet). But it is already affecting our farmers.


How it Affects Farmers

As temperatures change, farmers must learn how to adapt to the climate conditions. It’s not like they can just pick up and move to a place where their preferred crops will grow better. Though many crops don’t seem too nitpicky, they do need optimal conditions in order to thrive. The nutrient levels, soil conditions and water availability among other things, must be right. With climate change, there is not only a shift in the temperature, but also a shift in these other variables and seasonal weather patterns. As the temperature rises, precipitation drops which results in drought. Not only that, but warmer weather and higher CO2 levels make a lovely habitat for weeds, fungi and insects. That means (for conventional farmers) they must use more pesticides. But for organic farmers, it’s far more difficult.

These same factors also affect the health of animals. Heat waves cause more disease, reduced fertility, and lower milk production. Drought and the increase in CO2 have an effect on the grazing capacity and quality of pastures. And the overall change in climate means warmer winters and an increase in rainfall so that parasites and pathogens survive longer. Again, this means the conventional farmers need to use more antibiotics and chemicals to treat their livestock, but organic farmers don’t have that option.

What This Has To Do With You

Something had to cause this spike in CO2 levels. That something is the uses of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil. Humans are using more of those things than they ever have before, and we’re experiencing the consequences. Though these consequences don’t necessarily change your day to day life, they can have an impact on the prices you pay for your food. If farmers are struggling to keep up their crops and livestock, their cost will naturally be higher.

So the next time you go to the grocery store and see a food price which has gone up, step back and think about what conditions made it that way and how you may have contributed to those conditions.

Hands Holding Soil --- Image by © L. Clarke/Corbis

Hands Holding Soil — Image by © L. Clarke/Corbis

Why You Should Choose Organic

Organic products are produced in a more sustainable way. Though organic products are more expensive, the way they are produced helps justify the costs. Farming in today’s climate – and looking toward the future climate – may be more work for the organic farmer, but here is how choosing organic benefits you and the climate:

  • With organic farming, soil contains more organic matter, which helps it hold together, therefore making it more resilient to flood and drought conditions.
  • Organic soil does not get treated with dangerous pesticides, thus preserving soil biodiversity and nutrition and making it more able to sustain life.
  • Five to seven year crop rotations maintain soil nutrition and aid in pest and weed control.
  • Pasture-based farming and other perennial agriculture holds the soil in place and reduces water use.
  • When cropland is converted to organic pastureland, the pasture plants can take 4 tons of carbon per acre per year from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. This means less carbon in our atmosphere.
  • Organic farms are encouraged to introduce biodiversity to their crops which maintains a healthy ecosystem and helps keep harmful pests at bay without the use of dangerous pesticides.

Even though our CO2 emissions are on the verge of spiraling out of control, organic farming is the glimmer of light in our smog-filled world. If you support organic farming by buying their products, organic farmers can keep working to better the world we live in and sustain the environment for future generations.

Read about how one farmer is preparing his farm and family for the changing climate.