Add beer to the list of foods threatened by climate change

Rising temperatures and periods of drought will target barley crops worldwide


TAPPED OUT Climate change impacts on barley crops could lead to less beer and skyrocketing prices.

Danielle Griscti/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beer lovers could be left with a sour taste, thanks to the latest in a series of studies mapping the effects of climate change on crops.

Malted barley — a key ingredient in beer including IPAs, stouts and pilsners — is particularly sensitive to warmer temperatures and drought, both of which are likely to increase due to climate change. As a result, average global barley crop yields could drop as much as 17 percent by 2099, compared with the average yield from 1981 to 2010, under the more extreme climate change projections, researchers report October 15 in Nature Plants.

That decline “could lead to, on average, a doubling of price in some countries,” says coauthor Steven Davis, an Earth systems scientist at University of California, Irvine. Consumption would also drop globally by an average of 16 percent, or roughly what people in the United States consumed in 2011.

The results are based on computer simulations projecting climate conditions, plant responses and global market reactions up to the year 2099. Under the mildest climate change predictions, world average barley yields would still go down by at least 3 percent, and average prices would increase about 15 percent, the study says.

Other crops such as maize, wheat and soy and wine grapes are also threatened by the global rising of average atmospheric temperatures as well as by pests emboldened by erratic weather (SN: 2/8/14, p. 3). But there’s still hope for ale aficionados. The study did not account for technological innovations or genetic tweaks that could spare the crop, Davis says.

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