1. Now it's almost like in Tashkent
  2. Arizona without bison
  3. Oases and technologies

Climate change has made southern Ukraine resemble Arizona – cotton is now being sown, and sugar cane is being considered. In central regions, two potato harvests are no longer surprising. In the north, drainage is no longer needed, and sunflower cultivation is increasing. What should we prepare for, as global warming is not just Greta Thunberg's fantasy but a fact?

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According to the Hydrometeorological Center, Ukraine's climate is warming faster than Europe’s – the average annual temperature in Kyiv is now +10.7°C, slightly higher than in seaside Odesa in the 1980s.

Now it's almost like in Tashkent

Only two weeks have passed since May 14, 2024, when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the Law "On the Spread of Cotton Varieties in Ukraine", and the crop has been sown in Odesa Oblast. The reason for this rush is that cotton needs a certain amount of heat to ripen. Only mature cotton is suitable for making explosives for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which are in great short supply.

In the 1950s, the lack of heat in southern Ukraine caused a failed cotton cultivation program.

"For proper ripening, this crop needs at least 3,600 degrees of active temperatures during the growing season. But it was colder back then. Even in Kherson Oblast and Crimea, the southernmost regions of Ukraine, cotton only reached 2,700-3,000 degrees, resulting in poor quality and low yields, leading to the abandonment of this crop," said Tetyana Adamenko, head of the agrometeorology department at the Hydrometeorological Center.

Temperature nowadays
Southern parts of Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts belong to thermal zones with temperatures ranging from 3,400°C to 3,700°C.

Now there is enough heat.

"The last 20 years in Ukraine have been a nearly continuous warming period, with only one year where the average temperature approached the climatic norm. All other years, actual temperatures significantly exceeded the norm," says Tetyana Adamenko.

In 2023, the average annual temperature across the country was +10.8°C, almost 3°C, or a third, higher than the climatic norm.

Climate normal
The climate normal is the average climate characteristics calculated over a 30-year period, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, solar radiation, winds, etc. The current climatological normal in Ukraine is based on data from 164 weather stations for the period from 1991 to 2020. The climatic norm for the average annual temperature in Ukraine is +7.8°C.

In Odesa Oblast, where the first cotton fields were sown, the average temperature last year reached +12.4°C, only 1.5°C less than in fields near Tashkent 40 years ago when Uzbekistan was known as a global cotton center.

Arizona without bison

Global warming has caused southern natural zones in Ukraine to move northward.

In some areas of Odesa and Kherson oblasts, desert climate characteristics are forming. Agriculture here critically depends on the amount of precipitation.

"Our data indicate that the average precipitation in the country is stable. Of course, there are fluctuations between years, but over 20 years, it's 500-600 mm of precipitation per year," says Tetyana Adamenko.

As temperatures gradually rise, stable precipitation leads to a moisture deficit, especially for vegetable farming. This is why Odesa Oblast has one of the most active movements for creating water user organizations – the region is second in their number. The "vegetable belt" of Ukraine has moved northward and closer to the Dnipro Basin – to Cherkasy and Poltava oblasts.

Rising temperatures caused a poor sunflower harvest in Mykolaiv and Odesa oblasts in the summer of 2023 due to drought. In neighboring Romania, such drought prompted the government to request €34 million in compensation for farmers from the European Commission.

In southern regions of the so-called "sunflower belt," many farmers have abandoned sunflower cultivation this year. On the other hand, sunflower is making inroads in areas that traditionally belong to Polissia – fields sown with it are increasingly appearing in Chernihiv and Zhytomyr oblasts.

The question is what else besides cotton will come to the south of Ukraine, which is becoming similar to Arizona in climate?

Arizona is already here
Popular Ukrainian varieties of sunflower and potatoes are named "Arizona."

One of the options is sweet sorghum, which is called "the camel of crops" because of its drought tolerance. The National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine has developed a methodology for growing sweet sorghum, which can be raw material for both sugar production and biofuel. Miscanthus and switchgrass are also considered for cultivation.

Interestingly, some of the most popular sunflower and potato varieties in Ukraine are named "Arizona."

Oases and technologies

The impact of rising temperatures on agriculture, particularly on the increase in agricultural product prices, is called heatflation. Heat has reduced olive and peanut yields and forced changes in crop-growing areas, especially in Global South countries.

In Ukraine, the situation is less critical due to a fragile balance of moisture supply. For example, the Adelaide company, specializing in potato cultivation, has established a process for growing two potato crops per season. To do this, the first planting should be done in early March, and the second in early July.

According to Serhii Rybalko, head of Adelaide company, access to water is essential, as without irrigation, the risk of not achieving the necessary yield for profitability is high.

The Hydrometeorological Center identifies several regions in Ukraine as oases.

On the one hand, there are the sunny Ivano-Frankivsk, Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, and Vinnytsia oblasts, with high and stable precipitation levels. It's no surprise that these regions have the highest concentration of orchards and berry fields. On the other hand, the relatively "cloudy" northern regions, whose climate is suitable for potato cultivation and, after warming, corn. The moisture balance here is maintained by fewer hot days.

Moisture balance is also ensured by certain growing technologies. For example, No-Till, with minimal (claimed to be zero) soil cultivation, where plant residues and cover crops reduce moisture evaporation. Or a range of dryland farming tools. In any case, the land market in Ukraine has already responded to climate change. The most expensive land is in regions with optimal climatic conditions (considering the impact of the war).

The impact of heatflation will only increase. According to Svitlana Krakovska, head of the climatology laboratory at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute of the State Emergency Service and the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the planet is now in the final phase of a 60-year astronomical cycle, which slows temperature rise. Despite this, due to CO2, temperatures have been rising for 20 years.

"Approximately in the 2030s, the phase of astronomical warming will begin. This will amplify the existing anthropogenic warming. Then things will be much worse," says the scientist, who was among the top ten most influential scientists in the world in 2022 according to Nature magazine.

In this case, some lands in Ukraine will turn into deserts – that's why climate forecasts are essential when buying land.

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