Other Things Climate Change Might Ruin: Beer, Wine, Joy (Ok, Not Joy)

German plant breeders are working to develop new, drought-tolerant barley varieties.
Oct 14, 2013· 0 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

There’s a distinct line that runs through Europe, cutting the continent into northern and southern regions. Below the line, they make and drink wine. North of it, beer.

Culturally, that distinction is most familiar in national cliches: Beer-swilling Germans in lederhosen and French intellectuals smoking Gauloise and drinking Burgundy. But the divide is one of climate more than anything—or at least it has been. Grapes thrive in the warmer south, while grains like barley can tolerate the snow and frost of the north. Now, with climate change throwing off historic weather patterns, Burgundy may soon bee too hot for cold-weather loving Pinot Noir, and drought could hurt barley production both in Europe and around the world—and thus threaten beer too.

Thankfully, German scientists are doing more than drowning their sorrows in another gargantuan stein of Hofbräu München. Climate Desk spoke with plant breeders who are working to develop new, drought-tolerant barley varieties.

Nils Stein, a geneticist at Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics, says, “If we understand the genetic basis of tolerance to cold climate, to draught, to heat, then we can also use that information as an input for more direct breeding selection,” leading to commercial varieties of barley that will be better suited to the climate of the near future.

“I’m sure you can find any trait you’re interested in in this collection,” says Andreas Börner, the manager of the Institute’s seedbank, which houses many thousands of barley varieties. “It’s just a matter of searching for it.” Thankfully, they're already looking.