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Is climate change already affecting crop production?

Crop production makes the world go round – especially top crops like barley, cassava, soybean, wheat and sorghum. But climate change may already be having an effect on yields for the top 10 crops, and it isn’t hitting everywhere equally.

A new study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who teamed up with colleagues at the University of Oxford and University of Copenhagen, looked at weather reports and crop data to see if climate change is affecting farmers.

They found that climate change is having an influence on crop production, and in some surprising ways.

“There are winners and losers, and some countries that are already food insecure fare worse,” lead author Dr. Deepak Ray of Minnesota said in a press release.

They found that most of the top 10 food crops are seeing production changes, with oil palm production dropping by 13.4 percent; soybean crops saw an increase of 3.5 percent. The net change for all of the top 10 was a 1 percent decrease in production, the researchers said.

Europe, Australia and southern Africa saw mainly declines in crop production. South America saw its production mostly go up. Results were mixed in Asia, North America and Central America.

The researchers also saw that about half of food insecure nations were seeing crop declines – but so are many industrial nations, they said.

The results of the study has the researchers worried.

“This is a very complex system, so a careful statistical and data science modeling component is crucial to understand the dependencies and cascading effects of small or large changes,” co-author Dr. Snigdhansu Chatterjee of Minnesota said.

The report raises major red flags not just for food producers and traders, the researchers said. Everyday citizens should be concerned as well – especially those in countries that are seeing declines in crop production.

“The research documents how change is already happening, not just in some future time,”  Ray said.

The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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