Oct 22, 2021
Study: Tomatoes and potatoes surprisingly resilient to climate change

A new study led by researchers at the University of Florida predicts that the supply chains for two of American’s most popular plant-based foods – French fries and pasta sauce – are surprisingly resilient to climate change.

To make their predictions, the researchers developed an innovative modeling approach to the assessment of climate adaptation and mitigation opportunities in fruit and vegetable supply chains. While this methodology uses the best technology available today, the resulting forecasts should be treated with some caution, said Clyde Fraisse, who follows Senthold Asseng in leading the research team behind the study.

“This research represents the first time scientists have been able to evaluate how changes in our climate and increased competition for resources will impact farmers’ ability to increase production of fruits and vegetables,” said Fraisse, a professor in the UF/IFAS department of agricultural and biological engineering

The novel methodology includes climate, crop, economic and life cycle assessment (LCA) models, applied to U.S. potato and tomato supply chains. The crop modeling shows that planting strategies can be used to avoid higher temperatures. Land and water footprints will decline over time due to higher yield, and greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated by waste reduction and process modification.

While promising, the study’s authors caution that model predictions are not guarantees.

“Today’s models are not able to fully assess the potential impact of future extreme weather events, including tropical storms and heat waves that may affect crops with more or less intensity depending on their development phase,” Fraisse explained.

“We assumed irrigation will continue to be fully available, which is a reasonable assumption for these higher value crops, but it might not be true for regions like California’s San Joaquin Valley, once you look beyond the 2050 time horizon of our study,” said David Gustafson, a scientist with the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute and the study’s lead author.

Although not included in this newly published paper, the team has now applied their analysis method to carrots, green beans, spinach, strawberries and sweet corn. It can also be applied to other crops, fresh versus processed produce and geographies, thereby informing decision-making throughout supply chains. Employing such methods will be essential as food systems are adapt to climate change.

The new research, published in Nature Food, is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research team has been co-led by UF/IFAS scientists, including Fraisse, Gerrit Hoogenboom, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and former UF/IFAS professor Senthold Asseng, who is now director of the World Agricultural Systems Center at the Technical University Munich.

The inter-disciplinary research team includes other scientists from the International Food Policy Research Institute, University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, Washington State University and the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services.

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