How hard hit farmers in northern China are forced to adapt to Climate Change

It’s not an easy time to be a farmer in north China.

Over-exploitation, water shortages and bleak profits make toiling the land an excercise in frustration on the North China Plain.

Researchers examining the impact of climate change in the area say things are going to get worse before they get better, but farmers are adapting.

Following temperature and precipitation records for three agricultural cities over the course of three decades,  teams from China Agricultural University, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ohio State University analyzed the impact of climate change on the North China Plain and how this has affected farming in the region.

The study found temperatures steadily rising.

Between 1981 and 2011, temperatures rose by around a half a degree celcius per decade in Luancheng (0.57 C increase) , Huanghua (0.47) and Feixiang (0.44) cities, with the biggest gaps during the winter wheat growing season.  There was no average increase in precipitation.

Shifting temperatures have the biggest impact on crop cycles, as certain plants will only thrive in certain climates.  A warmer winter season has pushed farmers to change the normal planting schedule and seed later in the season – shortening the grow period and ultimately reducing crop production, according to the research.

To cope with water shortage, many are forced to invest in expensive irrigation equipment.

The result is a virtual standstill in long-term agricultural development for the region.

“Trade-offs between crop production, water resource conservation, and intensive agricultural inputs will inhibit sustainable agricultural development in the North China Plain,” the study, Challenges and adaptations of farming to climate change in the North China Plain, concludes.

Climate change and the need to transform the agricultural sector are heavy on the agenda for China.

“The No. 1 Document”, a government plan published at the beginning of February, recognized the environmental woes faced by farmers and ensured subsidies to enable modernization, among other measures.

Modernizing techniques and adapting to the new climate are the only real options for farmers on the North China Plain to move forward, the research said.

“Innovative technologies, such as climate-smart agriculture, will play important roles in balancing food security and resources use, enhancing water use efficiency and reducing C emissions in the NCP,” it read.

It was published in the Climatic Change journal on February 4.