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The Potato Problem: Can Scientists Climate-Proof Spud Crops?

As global temperatures rise, farmers that now grow potatoes will struggle to produce them, unless scientists start "climate-proofing" crops now.


Potatoes are starting to show up in my local farmers markets here in New York City. There are purple potatoes and fingerling potatoes and Yukon Golds and plain old Russets. Most of them come from somewhere in upstate New York, where every year more than 25,000 acres are planted with potatoes, the state’s most economically valuable crop. Two decades from now, though, those acres will be dramatically less suitable for growing potatoes, according to the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security research program. Potatoes don’t grow well in heat, but a freak frost can kill off an entire crop. As global temperatures rise, the farmers that deliver potatoes to my neighborhood will struggle to produce them.

This problem isn’t confined to New York. All around the world, yields of crops like potatoes and beans will drop as their growing conditions change. And preparations to head off hunger and food shortages need to start now, says CCAFS, a Denmark-based collaboration of agriculture scientists, in a new report.


Potatoes do sometimes get a bad rap. Recent research shows that eating them can lead to weight gain: they’re that chock-full of calories. The Department of Agriculture could limit the number of times that school cafeterias serve potatoes, along with starchy vegetables like corn and peas, in a week.

But while the potato’s caloric efficiency is problematic in a country with an obesity problem, it’s a vital support to the world’s population generally. In 2008, the United Nations’ International Year of the Potato, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization found that China produced more potatoes than any other country, while India, Bangladesh, and Russia were among the top overall consumers. Poorer Eastern European countries like Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland dominated per-capita consumption. But Rwanda also made that list, and the U.N. found that per capita demand for potatoes in the developing world was growing.

One potential solution to the continuing need for potatoes in a changing climate involves developing heat-tolerant varieties. CCAFS reports that heat-tolerant potatoes could head off climate-related damage in about two-thirds of the potato crop worldwide. Crop scientists have relatively little experience breeding for those traits, though. Sweet potatoes also do better in hot weather than white potatoes.

Potatoes aren’t the only crop that need to be “climate-proofed,” though. The CCAFS is focusing on the crops that provide the base for most peoples’ diets—bananas and cassava, as well as potatoes and beans. For all those other wonderful vegetables showing up in the market—the last Jersey tomatoes, first winter squashes, apples, and kale, among many others—the race is on to figure out how to save them, as well.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user graibeard

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

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The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

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