For Russian Farmers,Climate Change Nyet so Good

February 26, 2016


Russian wheat field burns in the historic 2010 drought

Climate denier talking point: We’ll open up northern areas and grow more food.

Reality. Not so much.
NPR reports. Videos show why this is a big problem.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says last month was the warmest January on record. That sets off alarm bells for climate scientists, but for the average person living in a northern climate, it might not sound so bad.

That’s what many people are saying these days in Russia, where the expected icy winter has failed to materialize this year – to widespread joy. Of course, any climate scientist will tell you that an unusually warm month — or even a whole warm winter — doesn’t mean much. It’s the long-term trend that counts.

But that’s not how it appears to the popular imagination, says George Safonov, who heads the Center for Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He says there’s a big temptation in northern countries to believe that warmer weather can bring economic opportunities, such as improving conditions for farming.

“Before 2010, we had a rising harvest rate for crops, and that was explained as a very positive impact of climate change,” he says. “It was not easy to convince people that this is not correct.”

The problem, Safonov says, is that while warmer weather might open up more land in cold regions such as Siberia, it’s already causing havoc on existing farmland in the south.

Some of Russia’s most productive farmland, the fertile steppes around Rostov-on-Don, has been facing a series of droughts.

“We had one-third of all harvests lost in 2010, one-fourth of all crops lost in 2012. And if you calculate, that was about $12 -$15 billion damage,” he says. In other words, a huge loss for Russian farmers.

We went to the Rostov region to see what farmers are doing about all this.

There’s nothing growing there now, but driving through the miles of plowed fields, you can see why this area is called the breadbasket of Russia.

The writer Anton Chekhov said it was so fertile, you could poke a stick into the ground and it would take root and grow.

Vladimir Dvornik runs an agricultural cooperative called Progress, a former Soviet collective farm. He says he and his fellow growers have had to change their crops to deal with drier conditions.

“We gave up growing some kinds of grain, soy and some vegetables, like peppers and tomatoes,” Dvornik says. Now, he says he has switched to winter wheat and other crops that do well in drier weather.

He says it’s not a catastrophe for local growers, because they’ve had time to adapt, but drought could cause severe problems if it keeps getting warmer.

As for moving Russian farming to Siberia, Dvornik says that’s nonsense, and so does economist Safonov.

There’s no infrastructure for farming there, Safonov says, no expertise and no population of potential farm workers. Between losing farmland in the south, and starting large-scale farming in the north, the costs would be huge.

“Overall, I would estimate these potential losses as a few dozens of billions of dollars per year if we don’t do anything,” Safonov says.



9 Responses to “For Russian Farmers,Climate Change Nyet so Good”

  1. grindupbaker Says:

    That might be fine for some countries, not so much for others. Take the poor old U.S. of Americans as a totally-random example. They already gots plenty of good farmland all the way up north to their top except where it’s topography, not climate, that inhibits crop production. And even Sumas at the border has corn fields, Maple Falls has some lovely vegetable gardens. North of them is some other bods’ country, so the U.S. of Americans is screwed with this concept that “we’ll” be growing food further North.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Except that when the SHTF, it is highly likely the Canadian provinces will soon become the 51st. through 60th. states of the (rather disunited at present) U.S.

      Better start building that wall, Canadians, because the climate “refugees” from the south are coming, and it might slow them down enough for you to make a deal with President Trump and get top dollar for your land. (And start practicing your singing of The Star-Spangled Banner—-it’s not easy).

      PS The concept of the U.S. (or the UK or other European countries) ever being “screwed” because other countries had something they wanted is laughable. Remember “colonialism” and “empires”? The history books tell us that if a country wants what another country has, the only thing that matters is how many weapons they have and how ready they are to use them.

      • Glenn Martin Says:

        Not to worry. We have plenty of farmers who would love to sell you their crops at a not unreasonable mark up. And if you get testy there’s always those nukes we’re not supposed to have.
        The real problem is that your grain growing prairies will dry out to desert a lot faster than our marshes will dry out to land that can be cultivated.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “The real problem is that your grain growing prairies will dry out to desert a lot faster than our marshes will dry out to land that can be cultivated”.

          Yep, the bright-sided say, “No problem, we’ll just migrate north” without realizing that the process of warming in the higher latitudes will not necessarily proceed smoothly in the ways and at the speeds that their wishful thinking requires.

          The survivors will likely be growing wheat in the territories and above the arctic circle in Siberia some day, but a lot of folks are probably going to starve or kill each other before that happens.

          PS When the time comes, it will be your LAND that we will simply TAKE, since we are the greatest and most exceptional country to ever exist on the planet, etc, etc, and it’s simply our god-given right. President Trump will not be content for us to just buy your crops, and his penis (ooops, I meant nuclear weapons arsenal) is bigger than Canada’s, so don’t make idle threats. We can turn Canada into a smoking radioactive parking lot (and then try to grow crops on that).

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    Nothing grows in the winter up North. Plants need sunlight too, and while Climate Change has altered many things, it hasn’t altered Earth’s orbit.

  3. vierotchka Says:

    Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake”.

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