Impacts on the Vegetable Industry

It is not clear whether the overall impact of global warming will be positive or negative relative to production of vegetable crops. In areas where mean daily temperatures do not currently exceed 25°C during the growing season, overall effects should be beneficial, while they may be negative where growing-season temperatures are higher. Higher temperatures should also be more beneficial in areas that currently have short growing seasons and most production in the summer, compared with areas with longer frost-free periods and most production in the winter.

Fresh-market crops in the north-central and northeastern USA and processing crops (which are grown on significant acreages in such northern states as Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York and are usually direct-seeded) will be likely to experience more beneficial than adverse effects. For the bulk of the US fresh-market vegetable production, the impact is less clear. The most important fresh-market vegetable production states in the USA in 1995 in terms of acreage were California, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona. In terms of crop value, California also produces 62% of the vegetables grown for processing (Maynard and Hochmuth, 1997) and in 1993 Florida produced over half the fresh-market tomatoes. In the states which are currently most important in fresh-market vegetable production, gains in frost-free periods might be offset by reduced ability to grow heat-sensitive vegetables (such as tomato, bean, sweet-corn, pepper, carrot, lettuce and cole crops) during the summer and by reduced fruit quality.

To the extent that planting and harvest dates and production areas change, market disruptions will occur. Currently, profitability in vegetable crops is highly dependent on having a 'market window' where prices are high. These market windows will become increasingly hard to predict if climatic changes significantly alter planting and harvest dates. Market disruptions could also result in temporary shortages and/or oversupplies for the consumer, and possible price changes for both consumers and producers.

It will be more difficult for small growers to adapt to changing market opportunities, because they have less ability to survive a temporary market 'glut'. It will also be harder for small growers to switch crops, because transplanting, seeding, cultivating and harvesting equipment differs greatly for the different types of vegetable crops. Additional cultivar trials may need to be conducted, which will be difficult for small growers. Even for large corporate farms, which already have multi-state operations, additional costs will be incurred if the infrastructure supporting vegetable production (packing houses, cooling facilities, housing for labourers) needs to be relocated.

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