5 ways climate change disrupts the global feed industry

The effects of climate change will pose increasing challenges to global food and feed production.


A recent report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) urges governments worldwide to take urgent steps to slow global warming to a maximum of 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, half a degree less than the 2-degree Celsius goal set by the Paris climate agreement. The document warns that, without major changes over the next 12 years, an increasing global temperature will result in a major threat to food security, frequent extreme weather events and many other adverse environmental and societal consequences.

To narrow the scope to crop production, climate change is a “three-way interaction” between elevated CO2, rising temperatures and extreme water stress, which includes drought and excessive precipitation.

“Together, these three provide a much higher impact on the cereal supply and its quality across the feed and food chains than each do individually,” says Naresh Magan, professor of applied mycology, Cranfield University.

Beyond the obvious environmental and food security implications climate change will have on human populations, it will pose a specific set of safety, supply and management challenges for livestock and feed producers.

5 ways climate change will affect global feed industry

Commodity sustainability, safety and quality are among the greatest challenges to feed production over the next decade. Here are five ways climate change is affecting the global feed industry.

  1. Crop production

Decreased yields: Climate change threatens the yield of staple feedstocks. For example, research suggests that a temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius and the doubling of CO2 (350 vs. 650 ppm) would result in yield penalties of 40 to 50 percent in soybean production and 10 to 20 percent decreases in corn and wheat.

“The food chain is global,” Magan says. “If you have substantially less of a staple crop in a key production region, it’s going to impact the rest of the world.”

Weeds takeover: Under climate change conditions, weeds grow faster than cereals, which will also impact yield and quality.

“This means inputs will have to be higher, which has an economic impact,” Magan says, noting that accelerated weed growth can hinder crop growth by 40 percent.

Crop distribution: Rising temperatures will allow crops to grow in new regions, which may provide new commodity sourcing opportunities.

Opportunity for new genetically modified (GM) crops: New seed technologies will increasingly aim to cultivate weather-, disease-, toxin- and pest-resistant strains. However, in Magan’s opinion, regional GM regulations will give large markets without constraints a competitive advantage.

  1. Increased mycotoxin contamination

Extreme weather events and rising temperatures create the perfect conditions for mycotoxin contamination. Mycotoxins, which are the natural toxic secondary metabolic products of molds, will be the main challenge facing the animal feed industry in the future.

“Climate change will create stronger variations in mycotoxin occurrences,” says Paola Battilani, professor of plant pathology at the department of Sustainable Crop Production at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. “In principle, we believe there will be increased instances of aflatoxin, which is the most dangerous to humans and animals, but also variations and increases in co-produced mycotoxins.”

Mycotoxin variations caused by climate change can also pose additional production and risk mitigation challenges:

  • Multiple mycotoxins: Fungi will often produce multiple toxins. The synergistic impact of multiple mycotoxin contamination in feedstuffs pose animal health challenges and alter anticipated effects and management strategies.

New mycotoxin co-occurrences will be the norm in the future, Battilani says.

  • Masked mycotoxins: Masked mycotoxins are produced by a specific biochemical reaction in plants where “mycotoxins can be bound to certain molecules, including e.g. glycosides, glucuronides, fatty acid esters and proteins.”

Due to their biochemical composition, it is difficult to identify masked mycotoxins using traditional testing methods.

In addition to negative health effects, spoilage and mycotoxigenic molds can also reduce the nutritional value of the grain by up to 15 percent.

  1. Decreased nutritional value

Climate change conditions may decrease the nutritional value of feed grains by as much as 10 to 20 percent, Magan says.

“People focus on mycotoxins, but it’s both the mycotoxins and the deteriorated nutritional value in both food and feed that impede animal health,” he says.

Battilani says feed producers may increasingly explore alternative ingredients to offset supply shortages of high-quality proteins.

In these scenarios, feed formulations will require frequent modifications and new feed additive and preservative solutions will need be developed to “stay ahead of the game.”

“If the quality of the material decreases, it’s going to impact production,” says Dr. Raj Murugesan, technical and marketing director, Biomin America. “We need to find the right balance and overcome these challenges.”

  1. Pest diversity, disease evolution

Climate change may usher in pest and disease challenges in non-native regions. As staple crops are damaged by insects, it creates the opportunity for more diseases, mycotoxins and additional pest infestations.

Magan says plant pathogens will evolve and become resilient faster with climate change than existing crops or buffering populations.

“Some fungal pathogens may become more resilient than other micro-organisms in the environment,” he says. “Today, we just don’t know the long-term impacts.”

These will pose management challenges in the field, in storage and at the feed mill.

  1. Consumer impact

As food and feed costs rise, costs will be passed on to the consumer. Climate change-driven supply shortages and high food costs will lead to food insecurity in middle- and low-income economies.

“Awareness of climate change’s full impact is not high among consumers,” Magan says. “Climate change skeptics confuse people. In my view, it will have a significant impact on food security over the next 25 years and lead to social unrest when food and feed become too expensive.”

Safety is an ongoing concern.

Technologies to mitigate climate change risk

In the future, the increased use of precision agriculture while cereals are in the field and the utilization of real-time monitoring post-harvest may address some of the adverse affects climate change may have on crop production.

“Prevention is the first step in addressing mycotoxin problems,” Battilani says. “Prevention means a lot of things because we can manage the crop (breeding) and provide better protection (pests, disease), but we also know prevention is not a complete solution — it can’t solve all our problems — so we also need action after contamination.”

Predictive modeling, which is the analysis of statistics and data to predict outcomes, can identify potential climate change effects and is being used as a tool to track weather patterns and mycotoxin contamination trends.

Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) commissioned a predictive model of regions prone to aflatoxin contamination.

“We applied the predictive modeling with the climate change data and our prediction was that we are facing big problems — especially in areas where [corn] is grown,” she says. “The data suggests [Europe] will be challenged with aflatoxin contamination in the future. This method can be utilized with other mycotoxins as well.”

Murugesan feels feed producers need tackle mycotoxin challenges beyond quality control.

“Mycotoxin testing is not thorough enough,” he says. “Mycotoxins grow in hot spots. If contamination is missed, then contaminated grains enter the feed supply. [Manufacturers] need better sampling programs.”

Magan fears the speed in which regulations are amended will not keep pace.

“The question is, will molds start to produce new toxins and then will our legislation be out of step with the problems in the future?” he says. “Vision is very important in science and you have to think ahead and address the challenges of the future.”

References available upon request.

Editor’s note: Interviews were conducted at the 2018 Biomin World Nutrition Forum.

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