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Adaptation in agriculture: historic effects of heat waves and droughts on UK agriculture

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Extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and/or severity under climate change. Recent examples of these types of events, such as the heat wave in Europe in 2003, have caused considerable damage to crops and agriculture and substantial economic damage. If similar damage was incurred every time such an event occurred in the future, it would cause increasingly serious loss to social welfare and the economy as the frequency or intensity of these events increased. However, agriculture has a history of adapting to shocks, and in this paper we aim to determine whether there has been a systematic reduction in damage from historic extreme events over time in the agricultural sector in the UK. The impact of comparable droughts or heat waves over the past four decades is compared, and for many commodities there appears to have been a reduction in damage over time, to the point where recent events have had a minimal impact on production, indicating that the sector is relatively well adapted to the current climate. We discuss whether this type of adaptation can be sustained into the future under more rapid rates of change, or whether the ‘low-hanging’ fruits of adaptation have been picked.

Keywords: adaptation; agriculture; climate change; drought; heat wave

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3763/ijas.2010.0482

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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