Climate Change Causing a Beer Shortage? Brewers & Farmers Aren’t Concerned

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A recent study published in the journal Nature Plants made an alarming prediction: increasing global temperatures and extreme weather will cause a shortage in barley. Yes, the Earth is rapidly changing in a way that could cause serious consequences for the human race, and we are worrying about a shortage of our precious beer, but fear not, brewers and barley growers say they aren’t too concerned.

The study shows that global barley yields could drop by as much as 17 % during a prolonged period of severe droughts and heatwaves, causing a sharp hike in beer prices. Beer industry folks, however, are saying otherwise.

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Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, a trade group in Boulder, Colorado, told NPR, “While climate change is a cause for concern, this study isn’t a great indicator of what is going to happen in the real world.” Watson is among many within in the industry that believes that as the planet changes, so will agricultural sectors. Simply put, farmers will be able to adapt to these changes as they have been forced to do for generations.

Idaho is currently the top barley growing state in the country, and Dwight Little, President of the Idaho Grain Producers, says, “If warming happens as they say it will, my impression is that it will come in small incremental increases over a long time, and that allows farmers time to change.”

He, like many other farmers within his association, have dealt with adverse weather and farming issues that have arisen generation after generation. He tells NPR, “There are lots of things farmers can do to adapt to changing climate. I just don’t see us being unable to produce however much barley brewers want.”

But is there any scientific data to back up this bolstered confidence held by those in the barley industry? Watson at the Brewers Association is quick to cite U.S. Department of Agriculture data that barley production is already shifting to cooler climates, an indication that output will still be able to meet demand despite the increasing climate.

Steven Davis, coauthor of the paper, agrees that farmers will be able to adapt to the coming changes, but nevertheless sticks with the study’s conclusions. He says, “We’ve already made a lot of progress in creating new grain varieties and producing more from less land and in places where conditions can be harsh. Even still, it seems hard to fathom that they will come up with a variety of barley that can withstand the extreme weather events we looked at.”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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