Agriculture and Food Security - Minnesota Department of Health

Agriculture and Food Security

Climate and weather have a complex relationship with agriculture in Minnesota. Depending on the exact changes, Minnesota may experience significant impacts to food security and health. Climate change is lengthening the growing season and causing increases in heavy rain events, which may increase the amount of food that farmers produce or cause large crop losses. Livestock will benefit from warmer winters, but more extreme heat events in the summer will increase heat-related illnesses and deaths. These are a couple examples of the effects of climate change.

Food Security

Food security has multiple definitions and meanings. The focus of this module is on the definition of food security referring to the availability of and access to food.

image of food products

The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Commonly, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences. (WHO, 2013)

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Crop Production

Nationally, Minnesota is the fifth highest state in total crop production. Climate change may increase crop production by lengthening the growing season. The Midwest growing season has lengthened by almost two weeks since 1950, due in large part to earlier timing of the last spring freeze.

image of corn crops

Climate change may affect the types of crops that thrive in the warming climate. For example, southern Minnesota is now in a plant hardiness zone that includes blackberries and peaches.

Climate change may also decrease crop production as a result of increased crop losses and soil erosion from more frequent and intense storms, and increases in pests and invasive species.

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Nationally, Minnesota is #1 in turkey production, #2 in hogs, #6 in dairy cows, red meat and cheese, #7 in milk, and #9 in cattle and calves. Climate change may affect animal agriculture by impacting food supplies for animals; disease and pest distributions; and animal health, growth and reproduction.

image of piglets

Animal health, growth and reproduction are highly sensitive to temperature. While warmer winters may reduce deaths from exposure to cold temperatures, higher summer temperatures will likely offset this benefit with increased deaths due to heat-stress, lower production of milk from dairy cattle and eggs from poultry, slower weight gain and corresponding longer time to market, and decreased reproduction that can result in smaller herds.

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Culturally Important Foods

While it is unlikely that the U.S. or Minnesota will see true food shortages in the near future as a result of climate change, specific types of food, especially culturally important foods, are already seeing impacts. Examples of culturally important foods that may be affected by climate change include natural wild rice, moose and cold water fish, which are important to many Minnesotans, particularly tribal community members.

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Food Security Training Module

cover of food security module

MDH developed the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Training Module as a part of a series of Climate and Health trainings. This training module provides an overview of the observed climate changes in Minnesota, the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture and food security, and public health strategies to increase food security and food education. This module can be used as an educational tool for interested persons or as a “train the trainer” module for local public health departments. The training has been fully scripted for that purpose.

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Updated Friday, March 24, 2017 at 10:18AM