How climate change affects agriculture

Since the creation of our Earth, its climate has seen many changes. Temperatures and humidity have been in flux over millennia; as these change, so do the growing conditions of our crops and the mycotoxin-producing fungi that grow on them.

These changes have significant implications to today’s growers. In the past century, a combination of elevated climatic temperatures and more frequent extremes in precipitation and drought have led to plant stress, and in turn, increased mycotoxin contamination.

As these climate extremes persist, they may threaten food security, as well as jeopardize animal and human health. Growers experience economic loss when their harvest is downgraded, rejected, or discarded due to the level of mycotoxin contamination. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. growers experience losses exceeding one billion dollars annually due to high mycotoxin levels.

Growers may also experience economic loss due to decreased harvest yield as companies struggle to adapt to rapidly evolving growing conditions and changing climates, including higher temperatures. Bernhart Schauberger, a researcher at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that, “as soon as temperatures go beyond 30 degrees (Celsius, 86°F), it’s very negative for yield.”

Mycotoxins could compromise animal health as well, with livestock mycotoxin consumption leading to numerous detrimental health effects, such as organ failure and in severe cases, death. Currently, average mycotoxin levels in human food are far below the maximum mycotoxin levels the FDA enforces. If climatic trends increase the levels of mycotoxins, it will be more difficult to keep our foods at mycotoxin levels so far below the FDA limits.

It is important to note that each fungi has different climate preferences, so different mycotoxins may develop depending on how the climate changes. For example, fumonisin development is typically greater in lower latitudes and altitudes where conditions are on average warmer. On the other hand, DON thrives in cooler, humid conditions.

In the near future, these sporadic influxes of extremes will likely necessitate growers to be more diligent with their mycotoxin testing, as they will likely see an increase of variability regarding the mycotoxins prevalent in their harvest. Within the next century, reports have shown that we should expect aflatoxin and fumonisin concentrations to increase and DON levels to decrease. As climate change progresses, it will be crucial to understand these changes in order to ensure future food security.

Neogen offers a comprehensive range of mycotoxin test kits.

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