Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adapting to Climate Change: Tea and Olives are Now British Crops

Britain is known for tea, but until now tea has always been an imported product. Thanks to the magic of a warming planet--or at least a warming Cornwall, British farmers have developed tea crops. They grew over 10 tons this year. From this story:
London - British farmers are experimenting with crops such as olives and nectarines which have traditionally been imported from southern Europe while the first British tea plantation has opened with a changing climate set to transform the nation's countryside.
Flowers will bloom early and crops will be harvested sooner as Britain marches towards what the government describes as a “wetter and warmer” UK.
Britain's first tea plantation has opened in Cornwall in south-west England, the country's warmest region and the centre of much of the current crop experimentation.
“We had an opportunity when temperatures in Cornwall turned warmer and we started a farm in 1999 but we had our first harvest in 2005 and our yield has improved every year,” said Jonathan Jones, commercial director at the Tregothnan Estate.
Tregothnan now grows 22 varieties of tea and is expecting a record harvest in excess of 10 tons this year. The estate has also been experimenting with growing edible flowers.
Mark Diacono, a farmer in neighbouring Devon has been trying to grow a wide array of crops including olives, pecans, szechuan pepper and apricots and also lists vineyard on what he calls “climate change farm” on his website.
“I just made a list of all the foods I liked, knocked out all the things others grow perfectly well locally or are cheaply available. I researched and found out that some that had not been grown here before might be possible given new varieties and climate change... so I planted,” Diacono told Reuters.
Climate change doesn't get all of the credit, as seed technologies have improved as well. But this linked story highlights a difficult issue for the politics of climate change, which is that some areas will be made better off while many will be certainly much worse off:
Robert Watson, chief scientist at Britain's farming and environment ministry, said his department was closely monitoring the impact climate change was having on crops.
“There is no question that climate change will have significant effect on crops. Climate change might be beneficial for the UK at least because we will have a larger growing period with shorter winters and earlier springs,” Watson said.
“By 2050, the impact will largely be positive for crop growers but that will depend on where you are in the UK.”
Watson cautioned, however, that climate change does also raises serious concerns for a country such as Britain that relies heavily on food imports.
“If we take the world as a whole, with an increase of 2-3 degrees the overall impact will be negative. We are 65 percent food sufficient and the rest 35 percent is imported, mostly from Europe,” he said.
“So far, the supplies have been secure but the question is will the international markets be a secure food source? And at the same time, with the economic growth in China and India, will they push hard for increased food supply?
So the news is still bad overall. But it is worth noting that Britain now has a domestic tea crop for the first time ever. Maybe Port will be next.
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