Air Clean Up

  • How Does Ozone Pollution Affect Crops?

How Does Ozone Pollution Affect Crops?

Aug 28 2018 Read 886 Times

A new international study has warned of the dangers that ozone pollution may pose to crop yields. Led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, the research looked at how elevated concentrations of ozone in the environment impact yields of four staple crops around the world: maize, rice, soybean and wheat.

The results showed that collectively, the net loss caused by ozone pollution could reach up to 227 million tonnes per year. For countries who depend upon the production and consumption of these grains for much of their economical and nutritional gain, the findings should come as a serious warning with regards to safeguarding food sustainability in the modern world.

Concerning research

The investigation was a joint project between various different international research institutions, including the MET in Norway, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and others in China, Germany, India, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the USA. It was published earlier this month in the journal Global Change Biology.

By assessing crop yields in areas where ozone pollution is heightened, the authors of the paper were able to quantify these risks. They found that soybean was the most susceptible to being hindered by ozone, with yields falling by as much as 12.4%. Wheat was the next most at risk, with a 7.7% shortfall in production, while maize suffered by 6.1% and rice by 4.4%. There’s also the possibility that climate change could turn the prevalence of ozone into a vicious circle, since heatwaves are known to exacerbate the effects of the pollutant.

“What’s new in our study is that we estimate on a global scale how much ozone gets into the plants rather than simply the concentration in the air above them, and compare effects of ozone with effects of other stresses,” explained Professor Gina Mills, lead author of the study.  

Taking precautions

The study recommended that farmers implement a variety of different strategies for safeguarding their crop yields in the face of rising ozone levels. These included staying abreast of ozone forecasts and timing their irrigation cycles accordingly, since well-watered plants are more susceptible to absorbing pollutants in the air.

They also called on the scientific community to look into new agrichemicals which can help to safeguard crop yields from such climatic concerns as ozone, droughts and heat stress. However, they were quick to underline that these solutions should not be pursued to the detriment of organic life. In particular, the warning was a reference to the threat to biodiversity posed by systemic pesticides, which have been shown to have grave consequences for plant and animal life in the long run.

The authors have also highlighted the need for new strains of the four crops which are capable of handling the rigours of excessive ozone pollution and higher temperatures, as well as the need for farming to implement screening practices which can help to pinpoint these strains.

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