Scientist suggests climate change could be 'opportunity' for soft fruit growers

Is climate change a crisis or an opportunity for growers? This was the question posed by Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) climate scientist Adrian Newton to delegates at Fruit for the Future.

After showing his audience compelling evidence that climate change is happening, Newton's message was clear: doing nothing will lead to crisis but by using the benefits of the R&D work at SCRI, growers can adapt to changes and some will lead to opportunities.

From the point of view of Scottish growers, he said climate change over the past four decades has resulted in the growing season lengthening by 25 days or so - and annual air and soil temperatures have risen gradually. Unsurprisingly, these trends have been coupled with a reduction in snow cover and frost days throughout Scotland.

However, the rainfall pattern has meant that on Scotland's east coast, where fruit growing is concentrated, autumn rainfall has increased and winter rains have diminished. One thing that climate scientists across the world are observing is that climate change is leading to more extreme weather, from flooding to high winds. Growers must adapt to these.

Looking specifically at the situation for soft fruit, Newton identified developmental problems such as erratic bud break, uneven ripening and pest and disease problems.

He added that warmer temperatures are an opportunity to grow new crops like highbush blueberries - but they could also be a threat due to new diseases or old ones changing in importance.

Rising temperatures allow aphids (and, with them, the threat of virus spread) to become active earlier in the season. Warmer soil temperatures will allow root activity, which causes increases in soil pathogens - particularly raspberry root rot, which has serious implications for Scottish growers already badly affected by the disease.

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