Gary L. Hein
Climate change’s effects will dramatically reshape food systems and food security in the twenty-first century and beyond. Given potato’s susceptibility to heat and drought, climate change is poised to disproportionately affect potato production. Globally, potato is the fourth most important crop and yields a higher caloric density than any other commercial crop. Thus, disruptions to potato production bear serious implications for global food security.
In the United States, considerable potato production occurs in the arid West, which already faces water scarcity. This scarcity is anticipated to increase in many areas due to climate change. In addition to scarcity, growers will face a concomitant increase in evapotranspiration as temperatures continue to rise. Consequently, a need exists for growers to judiciously irrigate to protect yields and conserve water. Fortunately, irrigation technologies and strategies already exist to increase water use efficiency, and additional technology is under development.
Climate change’s threats to potato production are not limited to direct meteorological effects (i.e., water scarcity). Nefarious potato pests, such as Colorado potato beetle, are anticipated to thrive under climate change. Increasing temperatures could result in range expansion and additional generations in areas currently occupied by these pests. The increased pest pressure increases the potential for pesticide resistance caused by historical overreliance on pesticides. Increased pest pressure and pesticide resistance necessitate growers abandon the historical unilateral chemical approach and embrace integrated pest management.
Implementing the system-level changes necessary for successful adaptation will be difficult and requires experts with a broad understanding of potato production systems. Plant health practitioners possess the experience and education to identify risks and develop system-level solutions to mitigate the deleterious agronomic, social, and economic effects caused by climate change. This document provides an in-depth analysis on prospective threats and potential solutions through the lens of a practitioner’s experiences in Michigan and Texas potato production.
Advisor: Gary L. Hein