The world treats farm science the way I treat my clunker of a car: Unless the engine bursts into flames, I ignore it. I only take it into the shop when it dies.

The same thing happens with agriculture. We invest heavily in food when things are so broken that people begin predicting worldwide famine, but we scrimp on routine maintenance.

It’s a dumb way to treat a car, but it’s an utterly irresponsible way to treat agriculture in the age of climate change. A mechanic can fix a car in a couple days. The process of developing a new crop variety and spreading it among farmers takes 10 to 30 years. Thanks to you know what, weather patterns are changing faster than that.

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A new study, led by the University of Leeds, finds that climate change is outpacing the speed at which farmers and researchers are developing crops that can tolerate shifting weather.

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Heat waves and droughts threaten to diminish the amount of food farmers can grow. If that happens, farmers will have to plow up forests and savannas, which will lead to even more greenhouse gas emissions.

So, how do we respond? We could speed up the process of adaptation by investing more money in research. The authors of this paper also suggest setting up greenhouses with the temperatures and humidity of a predicted future, then breeding crops to thrive in those conditions.

With this study, these scientists have essentially written “fix me” on agriculture’s dusty back window. Wouldn’t it be nice to tune up farming before it leaves us stranded in the desert?

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