Shifting precipitation patterns, soil degradation, and a strained water supply are just a few examples of the types of occurrences that are impacting food supply and distribution. Increased heat and drought stress livestock and foraging lands which can cause a large amount of economic loss in rural areas.  Adapting to these changes while still being able to provide food security to the globe is the key to building a food resilient environment.

Source: Chapter 10 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment




U.S. agricultural production relies heavily on the Nation’s land, water, and other natural resources. In 2012, about 40%, or 915 million acres, of U.S. land was farmland, of which 45.4% was permanent pasture, 42.6% was cropland, and 8.4% was woodland. Only about 6% of the farmland was irrigated.  Agricultural land use can change over time. These changes are sometimes reversible, such as when shifting between cropland and pastureland, and sometimes irreversible, such as when agricultural land is converted to urban uses. These natural resource bases are affected continually by agricultural production practices and climate change (Source: Chapter 10 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment).

The figure shows changes in groundwater levels in the Ogallala Aquifer from predevelopment to 2015. Overlying states produce one-fifth of the Nation’s wheat, corn, and cotton, and the southern half of the region accounts for more than one-third of the beef cattle production {Figure adapted  from McGuire 2017, information sourced from Guerrero, B. et al, 2013}

The current state of agricultural systems in different regions of the United States is the result of continuous efforts made by farmers, ranchers, researchers, and extension specialists to identify opportunities, practices, and strategies that are viable in different climates. However, any change in the climate poses a major challenge to agriculture through increased rates of crop failure, reduced livestock productivity, and altered rates of pressure from pests, weeds, and diseases. Rural communities, where economies are more tightly interconnected with agriculture than with other sectors, are particularly vulnerable to the agricultural volatility related to climate (Source: Chapter 10 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment).

In addition to several economic and production problems associated with agriculture, human health is also heavily impacted by the stress on food. The impact of climate on food safety occurs through multiple pathways. Changes in air and water temperatures, weather-related changes, and extreme events can shift the seasonal and geographic occurrence of bacteria, viruses, pests, parasites, fungi, and other chemical contaminants. For example:

    • Higher temperatures can increase the number of pathogens already present on produce and seafood.
    • Bacterial populations can increase during food storage which, depending on time and temperature, can also increase food spoilage rates.
    • Sea surface temperature is directly related to seafood exposure to pathogens.
    • Precipitation has been identified as a factor in the contamination of irrigation water and produce, which has been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks.
    • Extreme weather events like dust storms or flooding can introduce toxins to crops during development.
    • Changing environmental conditions and soil properties may result in increases in the incidence of heavy metals in the food supply.

(Source: Chapter 7 of The Impacts of Climae Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment).

Food Production Concepts
  1. How will crop yield and production of other food products be affected by changes in climate?
  2. What types of food and locations will be most vulnerable to changes in climate?
  3. How will changes in climate affect the types of food that can be grown in a location?
  4. Under what conditions (i.e., for what types of food and in what locations) will indirect effects of climate change (e.g., pests, pathogens, invasive species, and fire) overwhelm direct effects of increasing temperature and/or changes in precipitation, surface water, or ground water?
Food Distribution Concepts
  1. What parts of the food supply chain will be most vulnerable to climate change?
  2. How will processing, storage, and transportation need to be modified to continue to supply safe food products under a changing climate?
Food Safety and Nutrition Concepts
  1. How will climate change impact foodborne illness that includes chemical as well as microbial sources?
  2. How will climate change affect the nutrient content of staple foods?
  3. How will the cost of a balanced diet be impacted under a changing climate?
International Food Security
  1. What countries are most vulnerable to climate change that affects food yield, quality, and availability?
  2. What segment of the population will be most vulnerable to changes in food prices?

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Updated on April 21, 2021