Farmers have always faced the whims of Mother Nature. But now climate change is changing what they can grow and where.
The most unusual thing about Joe Franklin’s 78-acre citrus farm is that it’s not exactly where it should be. “When I first started with it, people didn’t believe me when I told them it was grown right here in Georgia,” he said. “They didn’t believe me; ‘Oh, no, you can’t grow it here!’
But Franklin now has 12,000 trees, growing fruits in the middle of Georgia you’d typically expect to find hundreds of miles south in Florida: grapefruits, Meyer lemons, mandarins, mangoes.
Correspondent Ben Tracy asked, “So, I’m not going to find a Georgia peach anywhere on this land?”
“No, don’t be afraid,” replied Franklin. “One of the main things that influenced my decision to plant them was the fact that it’s a lot warmer now than it was 30 years ago, 40 years ago. I know when I was growing up, Glee, October In the U.S., you always had some frosting. And in November, you usually had a freeze. Now that doesn’t happen.”
“Did you think of it as climate change, or did you just say, ‘something is different here’?”
“No, I thought it was climate change,” he replied. “It’s happening. There’s no doubt about it.”
“A lot of crops – not only in the US but also in Africa, India – are already seeing the effects of climate change,” said Himanshu Gupta, CEO of San Francisco-based startup Climate AI. The stakes are high: As the planet warms and climate change promotes more severe droughts and floods, it is estimated that worldwide crop yields could fall by up to 30% by the year 2050 (Global Center on Adaptation according to a report).
Gupta shows Tracy how cranberries on our Thanksgiving tables will likely move significantly further north in the coming decades. Climate AI’s platform uses machine learning to identify climate risks for agricultural producers. “Using this, you can design your own recommendations for food companies or seed companies or farmers,” Gupta said.
Dramatic changes are already happening: there is coffee from California and fine wine from England.
But while warmer temperatures can benefit some crops, they can destroy others.
In Georgia, the state’s famous peach trees require significant winter chills to bloom in spring. Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia, said winters in the state have warmed an average of more than three and a half degrees since the 1800s, enough to put many peach varieties at risk.
Researchers are racing to develop new warm-season varieties to replace them.
Tracy asked, “As warming continues, should we expect crops to migrate north in some way, things that in the past needed to move further south?”
“There will be some migration,” replied Knox. “She has some limitations: what kind of soil do you have, do you have access to irrigation, what have you grown conventionally. Because if you’re a peach grower, you probably won’t suddenly switch to cattle.”
Joe Franklin’s citrus bet is paying off, but he knows that changing weather will likely mean more losers than winners.
Tracy asked, “Does it working for here mean it’s probably not working so well for someone else down South?”
“well of course.”
“What do you think about those people?”
“I do. And I feel for them,” said Franklin. “And it’s a gamble. It’s a risk you take, you know? It’s one of those.”
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Story produced by Mark Hudspeth and Sarah Kugel. Editor: Mike Levin.
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