Research published recently in Current Biology points towards at least one upside of climate change: some agricultural crops will have longer growing seasons, resulting in increased productivity. The study was conducted by the John Innes Centre in the UK.
Oilseed rape is a crop that is known to be sensitive to temperature. Its growing season begins in late August-September when seeds are sown and continues as plants produce flowers in April/May of the following year. The crop is then harvested that July, almost one year later. Due to the overwintering property of the crop, temperatures in the late fall can greatly affect the amount of development that plants can accomplish. According to Science Daily, annual yields can vary by up to 30% depending on how warm temperatures are in October (warmer temperatures produce higher yields).
The new study explains that this variation due to temperature is because of the timing of flowering. More explicitly, warmer temperatures in October mean in a delay in the crops’ flowering the following spring.
One author on the study, Professor Steve Penfield, commented, "We found that oilseed rape plants stop growing when they go through the floral transition at the end of October and that the warmer temperatures at this time of year enable the plant to grow for longer, giving more potential for higher yields."
Well, you can probably connect the dots from here. Under our current climate conditions and projected conditions, the UK will undoubtedly face fewer colder Octobers, making the environment ideal for oilseed rape crops.
"By establishing the link between autumn temperatures and yield, our study highlights an example of climate change being potentially useful to farmers. Cold Octobers have a negative effect on yield if you are growing oilseed rape, and these are now rarer," says Professor Penfield.
The researchers say that this study is the first of its kind because it simulated a field trial experiment. Although the technique they used has been used previously with natural grasslands to simulate winter warming, this was the first attempt at simulating an agricultural crop in the field.
"This study was only possible because we're able to create the lab into a field to simulate how climate change is affecting UK agriculture," continues Professor Penfield. "It's important to be able to do this because yield is highly weather-dependent in oilseed rape and it is very likely that climate change will have big consequences for the way we can use crops and the type of variety that we need to deploy."