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Heat Waves Could Bring Hundreds Of Billions In Agricultural Losses

A close up of a wheat plant in a field of crops.
Scott Butner
Flickr Creative Commons

Heat waves induced by climate change will threaten future agricultural crops at a faster rate than gradual global warming, according to a new study published in the Journal of the European Economic Association. Steve Miller, a UC Boulder assistant professor of environmental studies, was a lead researcher in the study.

He says the impact of heat waves on food crops could be 5 to 10 times greater than previously thought.

“Which is pretty concerning,” Miller said. “Turning that into a dollar amount gets to be harder because we would have to have a realistic projection of overall agricultural production 80 years from now.”

Miller points to France where, in 2003, the agricultural sector saw a $3-4 billion economic loss after enduring a heat wave. According to Miller, getting information out to farmers about the changing climate is one way to help mitigate losses.

“Water can help plants cope with heat stress and if we can get better and more realistic forecasts to those farmers and help them understand the benefits and how best to apply water that can help reduce some of the damage as well,” Miller said.

Miller says he's concerned but also optimistic.

“I think there's lots of room for us in terms of adaptation and mitigation to make those scary numbers get smaller,” Miller explained.

Editor’s note: An earlier audio version of this story incorrectly stated the economic impact of a 2003 heat wave on the French agricultural sector. That event resulted in a $3-4 billion loss.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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