If your Thanksgiving plate looks slightly different this year, blame climate change.
Extreme weather events across the nation over the past year have placed severe pressure on the country’s agricultural systems, leaving farmers with far fewer crops than in previous years, according to reports.
Record-breaking drought, deadly heatwaves and wildfires in the west have hurt wheat yields – a base ingredient of pies, bread and stuffing. Farmers in California have also been forced to give up on melons, strawberries, lettuce and tomatoes in favor of directing scarce water supplies to more valuable crops such as almonds, grapes and olives.
And it’s not a short-term trend, according to Jennifer Blesh, associate professor of ecosystem science and management food systems at the University of Michigan.
“We’re seeing visibly, in more dramatic ways, the effects of climate change that we know are going to become even more prevalent in the future,” she said. “Extreme weather events, like droughts and flooding, lead to major devastation of crops and farmers are losing income. We already have all of these supply chain shortages from the pandemic that has been exacerbated by inflation.”
“We’re just seeing this confluence of crises that is refocusing attention on how climate change affects our food system, including what sits on our tables over Thanksgiving,” she added.
The eastern European nation is a major provider of farming equipment and wheat, among other vital crops. Aside from the effects of severe weather, farmers have faced increases in the cost of fuel, labor shortages, and supply chain issues buying equipment and chemicals, including fertilizer. The war in Ukraine has also added pressure and strain on the U.S. farming industry.
Close to home, other crops have also had a tough year.
Winter wheat out of Kansas fell 25% as drought-hit midwestern states. High rainfall and a blizzard flooded crops in the spring. Although not Thanksgiving-related, farmers in Texas abandoned about 70% of the cotton crops this year, one of the worst seasons ever. Rice yields in California have been halved. While farmers in Florida reported losing 50-90% of oranges after category 4 Hurricane Ian came through the region. It will be the smallest harvest since 1943, according to analysts.
Overall, the American Farm Bureau Federation expects crops to be down by as much as a third this year.
Consumer and government agencies have reported butter shortages due to decreased milk production. The lack stems from an increase in feed, shipping and labor shortages.
Because of failed wheat crops, bread and other related products have increased in price.
While most families will still be able to put out a Thanksgiving feast, Professor Hallie Eakin, School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, believes people should consider how much goes into providing that food and how scarce it could become.
“We should value the relationships we have with food, especially during Thanksgiving—where it’s coming from, and all the resources that were used to make it on your table, but also the social relationships,” Eakin said.
“How do we value agriculture? Where do we want it to succeed? How much are we willing to pay for food? What is the legitimate burden for households to pay? These will eventually become equity issues and there’s very little evidence that they are going away.”