Climate change and its impact on global trade and agriculture

The Department of Earth Sciences hosted Roz Naylor, Ph.D., on Feb. 23, who presented her findings on the impact that climate change could have on food production in the near future. Naylor, who has her doctorate in economics and her bachelor’s degree in environmental science, worked alongside several of her peers in Indonesia to observe the effects of El Niño on the country’s agriculture programs.

Naylor assisted the Indonesian Government in the development of a food shortage action plan to compensate for possible changes in the event of delayed rainfall as the result of weather altering events such as El Niño. The course of her research led her to develop a technique that would allow the Indonesian policy makers to predict future crop yields by measuring the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean. Naylor spoke of her methods as yielding fairly accurate data. She stated, “You drop a thermometer in the middle of the Pacific in August and for every one degree [change] it will result in a one-million-ton [crop yield] shortfall in February or March.”


Using the data that she collected from her research in Indonesia, Naylor began to look into the influence that climate change could have on the global economy. Naylor stated that the increase in temperature has been progressing at a fairly steady rate. However, global temperatures are now primed to increase at unprecedented rates.

Focusing on local issues, Naylor talked about how climate change has affected the agriculture industry within Montana. She said, “I spent time with Bruce Maxwell [MSU professor of agroecology] here yesterday and he’s saying, ‘I don’t know what Montana farmers are going to be doing. They’re already shifting from spring to winter wheat, they’re shifting to lentils.’”


Naylor asked, “What if the hottest year on record is still colder than anything you see by the end of the century?” According to Naylor, this could be a very real possibility.