Climate is changing, and so is production…
With temperatures soaring above 40°C and large rainfall deficits across Europe, the summer of 2022 was a record-breaking season, marked by several heatwaves, forest fires and severe drought, foreshadowing alarming meteorological conditions in the near future. (1) This year is expected to be particularly challenging for Europe as the current drought is likely to be extended until November 2022, drastically reducing some agricultural yields already severely affected, such as grain maize, soybeans, and sunflowers. (2)
“Suitability” assessments for agricultural production areas evaluate the compatibility between climate and crop needs on a long term basis. An increasing number of these assessments alert on the viability of production areas and their value chains. For instance, we can expect a 27% decrease of Brazil’s coffee-growing area by 2070(3); up to a 73% decrease of the area suitable for viticulture in major wine producing regions by 2050 (RCP 8.5)(4); and concerning changes in product quality (5)(6); …
It is theoretically possible to adapt by changing varieties, practices or by moving production towards new suitable regions, like Northern Europe, New Zealand, or Northwestern United States for vineyards. (4) But the production does not come alone! It is supported by an organised value chain including producers, processors, distributors, logistics, skilled labor and markets. All interconnected and interdependent. It is therefore essential to consider adaptation options at a larger scale.
Some common adaptation solutions and their key implications
Let’s take 3 examples of adaptation solutions and see what is at stake:
Adapt crop variety or production scheduling
As we detailed in our article on phenological stages, the dynamics of crop cycles will accelerate due to rising temperatures.
In response to this, one can:
Either change crop varieties to compensate this acceleration;
Or keep up with the pace but change the product’s market entry date.
In the first case, the challenge will be to find a new variety with a quality that still satisfies customers; particularly for highly segmented markets such as potatoes. (7, 8)
In the second case, the risk will be to enter the market at the same time as competitors, which means having to share it or saturate it. (9)
Adapt practices so that production changes as little as possible
There are many methods to protect crops and yields from climatic risks such as: irrigation against drought (10) or agroforestry to recreate a microclimate (11, 12), …
However, these methods raise questions about resources and opportunities:
Are water resources adequate if irrigation becomes a common practice? (13, 14)
Is skilled labor available to carry out these new practices?
In which markets should the new production be commercialised?
Despite the undeniable climatic facts, changing locations also raises many technical and social questions that must be anticipated. Relocation requires long consideration, informed strategic choices and investments both in agri-food industrial sites and in their integration into a new value chain:
o It is critical that a new production meets new required standards.
o If the supply or production comes from a country with weaker regulations, how will the production stay adapted to the targeted market? For example: the French market is known for its strict pesticide residues regulations (15).
o Will local producers accept new contracts and new practices?
o Will producers have the skills and necessary equipment to meet the expected standards, both in terms of quantity and quality?
What will inadequate production areas become?
o How to manage logistics and create new circuits, ideally shorter, between the new location and its markets?
o Have the risks and opportunities of this new transportation solution been taken into account?
In addition, changing locations is not always a straightforward option. For example, in the particular case of the geographical origin of wine also called “appellation” (AOP, ACO, IGP,…), the protective international legislation applies very strict standards in terms of production areas that are quite difficult to change (16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).
Some “Good Practices”
Business as usual is no longer an option.
Before it was unthinkable to say so because markets were the only production driving force and technical solutions seemed unlimited. But it’s no longer possible for a growing number of agricultural productions to maintain the status quo: not taking environmental and climate constraints into account is unconceivable today. It now seems anachronistic to wish to maintain an intensive irrigated vegetable production in the Mediterranean basin. Water consumption has become unsustainable: More than 100% of water resources is already being used in some basins. (20, 21)
Consider any adaptation measure with regards to other surrounding producers and related markets to avoid disrupting the value chains. Adaptation studies must consider the risk of convergence of productions. If all basins converge towards the same production at the same time challenges can be expected regarding competition, labor, overproduction, price fall…
A strong customer awareness initiative should be envisioned by producers, agri-food industries and distributors for customers to accept some of the consequences of these adaptation measures (new varieties, scheduling, appearance). (22)
Ways to promote these adaptations
Setting aside any technical expertise requirements, the important question of how to finance these adaptations measures remains. There is an increasing number of “impact” funds (23) dedicated to produce a positive social and environmental impact while still generating an ambitious financial return.
Therefore, the quantification of the environmental, social and climatic contributions of the adoption of adaptation solutions are more than ever necessary to give credibility to these measures. Some options are:
Current environmental labels (HVE, Low Carbon Label, etc.) (24, 25). These labels could be matched with climate labels such as “produced under optimal climate” or “respects water resources”. It would support good practices and be easily recognised by customers.
Life Cycle Studies to show the positive impact of new adaptation measures and their ecosystem services (carbon storage, soil health, clean water, …). (26, 27)
Ultimately, solutions exist and they can even be transformed in real opportunities thanks to new investments, but above all, thanks to a sector wide understating of what is at stake:
Climate risk studies must include a section on climate compatibility and in-depth research of each adaptation solution and its local and global consequences.
Risk and opportunity studies, must take into account climate, the environment, but also economics and social sciences.