Agriculture is highly dependent on the climate. Global food supplies are already feeling the impacts of changing global rainfall and temperature patterns resulting from climate change. As Americans move from the Thanksgiving table to Black Friday sales, one wonders – how will these changes impact future Thanksgiving feasts?
Will the country be full of tastier turkeys? Bland veggies? A dearth of pies?
According to researchers, the answer is “All of the above.”
The centrepiece of (meat-eating) Thanksgiving feasts is undoubtedly the turkey. In the United States, these birds are primarily raised on corn. Overall, approximately 40% of country’s corn crop is used for animal feed.
The country’s corn crops are highly susceptible to climate change. While higher CO2 levels could increase corn yields, this positive impact could be swamped by the negative impacts of both increasing temperature and water stress. Furthermore, the price of corn could be impacted with rising demand for corn-based ethanol.
But, while corn’s susceptibility to changes in the climate could have negative impacts on turkey production (and price), it could also lead to tastier turkeys. Heritage turkey breeders raise their birds in a less intensive manner with grass feed and longer growth periods than their corn-fed and white meat heavy counterparts. While heritage turkeys are currently more expensive compared to the classic Butterball, they are (arguably) more flavourful.
Bland Veggies and Disappearing Pies
While changes in the climate might be a win for turkeys, it appears to be a loss for veggies and pies on the Thanksgiving table.
According to Professor Irakli Loladze at the University of Maryland:
“For [most] plants, rising CO2 does three things: it depletes essential human nutrition minerals in their tissues, it reduces protein in their tissues and significantly increases the ratio of carbohydrates to protein. That means, more starch and sugar in your potatoes, pumpkin and other C3 crops but fewer essential minerals.”
On the pie front, it’s the crusts that might be under the biggest threat. According to a 2014 study by Stanford University’s Frances Moore and Professor David Lobell, wheat yields across Europe are expected to drop by more than 20% between now and 2040 due to rising temperatures. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change has already had negative effects on wheat yields in many regions.
Changes in the global climate will almost certainly impact global food supplies. Whether these shifts are good or bad for the Thanksgiving table is unclear.
For those who would like to explore the potential impacts of other Thanksgiving staples, check out The Guardian’s interactive graphic.