When most people think about climate change, they picture 100-year hurricanes and extreme heat. Those are ominous threats, but they're not the only signs of a warming planet. A subtler shift can be found in changes to what agricultural products will grow where. For example, some experts predict that within a few generations, South Carolina could overtake Florida as the nation's orange-growing capital, and palm trees will be as common in Washington, D.C., as they now are in Los Angeles. Average low temperatures in the United States today have risen 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1990. This may sound small, but, as Rob Bowers, a farmer in North Carolina, points out. "Just a couple of degrees mean all the difference in fruit trees." Farmers have the inside scoop – by experimenting with crops that take advantage of new weather patterns. Here's a look at a few of those changes and how they are playing out in the field.
South Carolina, California, and Georgia are the primary peach-growing states, although this fruit can be raised anywhere that has temperate winters.
The Change: One place not typically associated with peaches is New York. Farmers there are now able to cultivate the fruit, selling $8.3 million worth of peaches last year. At the same time, Georgia's crop is in danger, as winters have started to become too mild to produce peaches as the state always has.
Olives thrive in regions with long summers and little frost, like the big three: Italy, Spain, and Greece.
The Change: Historically, frosts in the southeastern U.S. have made it impossible to grow olives successfully. But in recent years, "warm weather has meant earlier growth," says Jason Shaw, of Georgia Olive Farms, leading to increased olive yield. This year, Shaw's farm pressed its first 500 bottles of a cooking oddity: extra-virgin Georgia olive oil.
Common in sub-tropical areas like California, pomegranates die in temperatures below 12 F.
The Change: Farmers in the mountains of North Carolina now grow pomegranates where they never could before. "Pomegranates are very rare in our climate, but more people are planting them as temperatures increase," says Fred Bahnson, a gardener near Asheville, North Carolina, where dozens of farmers are growing and selling the fruit.
Coffee prefers abundant rainfall and 70 F temps.
The Change: Traditional coffee-growing countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, and Brazil are threatened by reduced rainfall and increased hurricanes. Meanwhile, places like the mountains of Arkansas and Georgia are becoming prime coffee-growing candidates, according to warming models from the University of Washington. Coffee is already being grown by home gardeners from California to Florida.
Out with the Cold
Not all plants benefit from increased warmth: America's cold-loving maples, apples, and rhubarb struggle in these sultry new environs.
Apple pie may one day be a foreign delicacy for Americans. The fruit needs up to 1,000 "chill hours" (less than 45 F) to grow; according to a study from the University of California, Davis, 80 years from now, there will be fewer than 700 such hours in the U.S.
6. Wine Grapes
In 30 years, it may be too warm even for essential grapes like merlot and cabernet to grow in California's Sonoma County. Oenophiles will have to look to Oregon, where the climate is changing favorably for such grapes.
Rhubarb, originally from Siberia, wilts above 90 F and needs frosty days for growth. With those days harder to come by in states like Oregon, rhubarb may soon thrive only in the Great Plains and New England.
8. Maple Trees
Maples are dying off fast, largely due to their sensitivity to temperature changes. "We now start a month earlier in the maple season," says Vermont farmer Jason Gagne. Experts expect an 88 to 100 percent loss of Vermont maples by the end of the century.