British farmers are experimenting with crops such as olives, nectarines and even tea as a changing climate transforms the nation’s countryside.
Flowers will bloom early and crops will be harvested sooner as Britain marches towards what the government describes as a “wetter and warmer” U.K.
The tea plantation was started in Cornwall in southwest England, the country’s warmest region.
“We had an opportunity when temperatures in Cornwall turned warmer and we started a farm in 1999 but we had our first harvest in 2005 and our yield has improved every year,” said Jonathan Jones, commercial director at the Tregothnan Estate.
Tregothnan now grows 22 varieties of tea and will harvest more than 10 tonnes this year.
In neighbouring Devon, farmer Mark Diacono is attempting to grow a wide ar ray of crops including olives, pecans, szechuan pepper and apricots on what he calls his “climate change farm.”
“I just made a list of all the foods I liked, knocked out all the things others grow perfectly well locally or are cheaply available,” said Diacono. “I researched and found out that some that had not been grown here before might be possible given new varieties and climate change… so I planted.”
New varieties able to withstand lower temperatures are a key part of the equation, said David Leaver, former principal of the Royal Agricultural College.
“Maize, for example, was not grown in this country but is now increasingly grown, mainly because of plant breeder achievements in breeding earlier-maturing varieties rather than due to global warming,” he said. “So climate change is not the only factor.”
The chief scientist at Britain’s Farming and Environment Ministry said his department was closely monitoring the impact of climate change.
“There is no question that climate change will have significant effect on crops,” said Robert Watson. “Climate change might be beneficial for the U.K. at least because we will have a larger growing period with shorter winters and earlier springs.”
But there is a flip side, he said.
“If we take the world as a whole, with an increase of 2 to 3, the overall impact will be negative. We are 65 per cent food sufficient and the rest – 35 per cent – is imported, mostly from Europe,” he said.
“So far, the supplies have been secure but the question is will the international markets be a secure food source?”