Keeping it cool

Posted by Flux on 

7 September 2023

What’s trending? 

It’s not just humans who are feeling the heat – animals and plants are too. In the midst of a planet that is experiencing extreme heat in many parts, humans are trying to keep their cattle and crops cool. Human ingenuity combined with technology, both advanced and ancient, is being used to adapt to these changing climatic conditions. Silvopasture, for example, is an ancient Italian practice to combat drought and harsh heat where fruit trees and livestock are integrated. The manure fertilises the trees and the fallen fruit feeds the livestock. There are computer-controlled cooling pads for pigs and many American farmers have apps to forecast animal comfort in the heat. Globally many crop varieties are affected, but in South Africa, our wine industry faces particular challenges. While in other parts of the world, vineyards are shielding themselves from climate change by moving into cooler territories, in South Africa this is not the case. “This is less of an option in South Africa due to geographical constraints and inadequate soil types. In this context, local wine producers are increasingly leveraging shade netting and technologies to monitor and preserve soil moisture, among other interventions,” says Dr Peter Johnston, UCT climate scientist. We will need to adapt to climate change and wine producers are likely to gravitate towards warmer-climate wine varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, rather than cooler-climate varieties such as chardonnay.

Why is it important? 

Food security is under threat  from extreme heat. Despite technology and innovative solutions, the repercussions are not limited to specific regions or countries. In our interconnected world, disruptions in food production in one area can have ripple effects on global food markets and prices, potentially affecting food security in other parts of the world. In the short term, many of the smaller players such as farmers may lose their livelihoods if they are unable to pivot. 

In the case of livestock, extreme heat makes it harder for animals to thrive and reproduce. This can reduce the availability of animal products such as meat, milk, and eggs, which are important sources of protein and nutrients for many people.

What can businesses do about it? 

Businesses in the crop sector can take several proactive steps to adapt to the impacts of extreme heat and ensure the resilience of their operations:

  • Grow a diverse range of crops and crop varieties that are better suited to withstand heat stress. 
  • Invest in efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation or precision irrigation while minimising water wastage. 
  • Early warning weather systems can help farmers make decisions to protect crops. 
  • Enhance soil health through practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and organic matter incorporation.  
  • In certain cases, providing shade or cooling mechanisms for crops, such as shade nets or sprinkler systems. 
  • Consider implementing Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), methods like greenhouses and indoor vertical farming. 
  • Practices like no-till farming and agroforestry can improve soil quality and water retention, making crops more resilient to extreme heat and drought. 
  • Explore income diversification options beyond traditional crop farming. 
  • Upgrade farm infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Access climate-resilient financing. 

Businesses in the livestock sector can take the following steps:

  • Create shaded areas or provide cooling systems, such as fans or misting systems, in livestock housing facilities.
  • Design and manage animal housing structures to maximise natural ventilation and reduce heat stress.
  • Modify feeding schedules to avoid feeding animals during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Consider breeding and raising livestock breeds that are more heat tolerant and adapted to local climate conditions.
  • During periods of extreme heat, reduce the number of animals in a given space to prevent overcrowding and heat build-up.
  • Stay informed about weather forecasts and heat advisories.

Businesses that take proactive measures to adapt are more likely to thrive in a changing climate while contributing to global food security.

By Faeeza Khan 

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