Farmers Face Plague of Pests as Global Warming Raises Soil Temp

Plagues of pests that devour key food crops are advancing northwards in the United States and becoming much more widespread. Climate change has meant the soil has increased in temperature, new research is a warning. 

The corn earworm is considered to be among the most common farm pests in the US, ravaging crops such as maize, cotton, soya, and other vegetables. It spends winter underground and is not known to survive in states beyond a latitude of 40 degrees north, which runs from northern California through the midwest to New Jersey. 

But that is changing as soils warm and it spreads to new areas.

New research led by North Carolina State University painted a bleak picture of what the farming industry will have to face as climate change wreaks havoc. Pest invasions have serious implications for food security. 

“As the climate changes, the overwintering zones are likely to shift northward,” said the co-author Anders Huseth, an entomologist at North Carolina State University. “This is the canary in the coal mine for agricultural pests.” 

The report follows research from the University of Washington in 2018 that found 2C (3.6F) of warming would boost the number and appetite of insects globally, causing them to destroy 50% more wheat and 30 percent more maize than they do now. Rising heat stress is already affecting yields, with harvests of staple crops in Europe down this year as a result of heatwaves and drought.

Researchers already knew that warmer winter soils meant insects that live in the soil are more likely to survive. Using four decades of soil temperatures and data monitoring corn earworms, researchers predicted the distribution of pests in the future.

It could result in more pesticides and fewer crops. 

Around the world, climate change is weighing on agriculture. The news also comes among fears of a food shortage this winter due to the Russian war in Ukraine. 

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