Opinion: Some aspects of global warming are bloomin’ marvellous

Everybody has their character flaws, some more easily admitted to than others.

Among my own collection is a certain predisposition to what the Germans call schadenfreude or taking pleasure in others’ misfortune. I hasten to add this is mostly limited to affording myself a wry smile every time Scotland add to their collection of Six Nations wooden spoons.

One that I am rather more reluctant to admit to, however, is “wisteria envy”, which I can trace back to the formative years of my career, when I spent spent seven most enjoyable years in the 1990s working for Anglian Produce at Loddon House in Norfolk. The building boasted a most impressive wisteria on its south-west façade that, every April, burst forth in glorious bloom, albeit for only a few weeks.

“UK wheat and OSR yields have, after years of relative stagnation, started to rise” David Alvis

My own attempts to cultivate this attractive plant have been less successful, due in part to the less favourable aspect of my own garden. Six years of careful pruning and training, however, were just starting to pay dividends and I was beginning to feel that I was at last making progress – until my in-laws replaced their central heating boiler with one that vented through the side wall of their house directly into their own struggling wisteria. It subsequently erupted into life, growing at a prodigious rate, and boasting a riot of colour each spring, bringing my new-found horticultural pride crashing back down to earth.

There may be a positive message in all of this, for all of us, rather than simply appeasing my shrub growing neuroses. Climate change and rising CO2 levels are generally presented as a bad thing and, admittedly, for some regions of the world that may well be the case. But for less water-restricted northern latitudes such as our own, the consequences of a 2-4C rise in average temperatures are not altogether unappealing.

The process of photosynthesis itself evolved many millions of years ago when average temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels were considerably higher than they are today. Most commercial glasshouses already artificially increase CO2 levels to raise crop yields, suggesting that our current status quo is some way below the productive optimum.

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History also tells us that prolonged periods of warmer weather have generally been associated with strong economic growth and prosperity in the UK. 

Certainly the prospect of 140t/ha crops of sugar beet in Norfolk, four cuts of top-quality lucerne a year in the Yorkshire Wolds, and regaining our world wheat yield record from the New Zealanders, all sound decidedly positive to me. 

Is this realistic? Well call me optimistic if you like, but I believe we are already starting to see signs of this manifesting itself.

UK wheat and OSR yields have, after years of relative stagnation, started to rise with records tumbling year on year and British Sugar has reported the fifth record crop of UK sugar beet in 10 years. While not all of this is necessarily due to climate change, I am convinced that it is playing a part and will continue to do so.

While no-one should interpret this as a rallying cry for burning more fossil fuels, we need to be mindful of the fact that while our actions as a country might have a relatively small impact on global warming, we may well benefit disproportionately from its effects.

Plus the thought of Kent and Sussex eclipsing Champagne or Burgundy as a source of some of Europe’s finest wines really is something to smile about.

David Alvis

David is managing director of Yorkshire Dairy Goats, based in the East Riding. He is a Nuffield Scholar and formerly co-managed the Technology Strategy Board’s sustainable agriculture and food innovation platform

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