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Climate change study predicts 70% increase of late blight in east Scotland in future

A new study by the Met Office in the UK gives examples of how two of the UK’s most important farming sectors are likely to be impacted by climate change. The study – published in Climate Risk Management – examines the effect of climate change on the dairy and potato farming sectors over the next thirty to fifty years, according to a press release issued by the Met Office.

Dr Freya Garry is the lead author of the study. She said the study is based on a climate projection known as RCP 8.5: a high emissions future. The pathway is credible as mitigation efforts to achieve the more drastic greenhouse gas emissions representative of other pathways can’t be guaranteed.

Dr Garry said: “Given the potentially serious consequences for UK farming, we felt it was appropriate to work with a high impact scenario. Even under lower emission pathways, we know that our climate will continue to change so even if the impacts are smaller than identified in this study, our study provides useful information for adaptation planning.”

The authors of the study wrote: “We use model simulations to identify if periods of blight, and the time over which remedial action is required, could become more frequent and prolonged in the UK over the next 50 years.”

In the future climate of 30-50 years’ time, the authors of the study concluded that late blight is likely to occur more often across the UK, with the greatest increases in western and northern regions. In east Scotland, a region which currently has a high concentration of potato farming, potato blight is predicted to occur around 70% more often.

Most potatoes are grown in the east of the UK, where potato blight occurs less often, and so there are likely to be smaller increases of 20-30 % in key regions for potato growing in England compared to today.

Both food for cattle, crops for humans, and potato growing will all be threatened by increased drought in the future, which we tend to experience when we have particularly hot dry summers, such as 2018. Last year, another group of scientists from the Met Office demonstrated that the summer temperatures of 2018 may occur every one in two years by the middle of the century.

In this work, the scientists also look at how often we are likely to see both hot and dry months during summers through the twenty-first century, and how this is likely to increase.

They point out that “increased persistent dry weather during the spring to autumn growing season of potatoes will also impact potato production, with less land suitable for rainfed potato growing, and larger demands for irrigation.”

The paper – “Future climate risk to UK agriculture from compound events”– has been published in the journal‘Climate Risk Management’This work was funded under the Strategic Priority Fund for UK Climate Resilience. The UK Climate Resilience programme is supported by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund. The programme is co-delivered by the Met Office and NERC on behalf of UKRI partners AHRC, EPSRC and ESRC.

Source: Met Office.
Photo: The Scottish Farmer

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