High concentrations of CO2 to drain nutritional quality of future crops       `

Image credit: Flickr User: Ian Britton

The forecasted increase of CO2 levels by 2050 will drain the nutritional value of major food crops and severely impact global health, an international research featuring academics from the University of Melbourne has found.

Image credit: Flickr User: Ian Britton
Image credit: Flickr User: Ian Britton

According to the news release by the University of Melbourne, the Harvard  University-led study – published last Friday in the journal Nature – has found that elevated carbon dioxide levels are associated with lower concentrations of zinc and iron in wheat, rice and legume crops, and lower protein concentrations in wheat and rice crops.

The crops – which included six varieties in 40 growing clusters across three continents – were cultivated in Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) environments, which replicate the atmospheric conditions expected in 2050.

University of Melbourne researcher Professor Michael Tausz said the results of the study showed that Australian crop Industries would have to adapt to the changes that will transpire in the future.

“If we are planning on breeding new crop varieties, or adopting new technologies or practices in food production to counter these drawbacks, then 35 years is not a very long time,” he said.

“What it means is that any new strategy in crop production to respond to these challenges, be it in plant breeding or agronomic management, must already be evaluated for its efficiency under the future high carbon dioxide atmosphere, where it actually has to perform.”

The Australian Grains FACE (AGFACE) program is run by the University of Melbourne and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria, and supported by the Department of Agriculture and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

The Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre (PICCC) – a collaborative venture between the University of Melbourne and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria – said that although the impact of climate change on agricultural production will be substantial, there were a number of adaptation options the industry could pursue.

“With adaptations we can capture the benefits and minimise the potential negative effects,” said PICCC Director Associate Professor Richard Eckard.

“The net effect of well-directed adaptation would be an increase in agricultural productivity by 2050.”