In which areas of the world can the largest variety of crops be produced? by Samuel Lickiss

Answer by Samuel Lickiss:

This is quite an interesting question, but I think we need to introduce some constraints first.

With modern technology you can grow any crops anywhere, just not naturally. For example, a surprising amount of tropical fruit is grown in Iceland, of all countries! Have a watch of this video (in Icelandic, but there’s lots of photographs and annoying music):

Iceland has the advantage of plentiful cheap energy to heat the greenhouses and provide extra lighting in the dark winter months, but you could do this anywhere.

So I think we should limit ourselves to looking at areas of the world where the greatest variety of crops can be grown naturally, i.e. out in the open air with minimal usage of modern technology.

However, it isn’t that easy. Crops are increasingly selectively bred (and genetically modified). This means new strains of crops can increase the range in which they can be grown. Rice makes an interesting example. Rice likes wet weather, but it can’t tolerate being submerged for long periods of time. They’ve already developed flood-resistant rice, useful in countries like China and India where rapid urbanisation, deforestation and construction of hydroelectric schemes increases flood risk and magnitude. More recently, a lot of work has been going into drought-resistant rice. See this article from the Financial Times for more information: Asia races to find drought-resistant rice –

The vast majority of crops that we eat today have been selectively bred in some way. New strains and varieties are being developed constantly, and there are practically infinite examples of this.

The point in all this is to say that more and more types of crop can be grown in more and more places.

My answer, therefore, is probably quite boring. We can quickly eliminate extreme climates, such as those of Antarctica, the Himalaya and the Sahara Desert. On balance, the areas of the world that have the best range of climactic conditions are the world’s temperate regions.

They have plentiful rainfall, warm (not hot) summers and cool (not cold) winters. They do not tend to experience any kind of extreme events, like forest fires, hurricanes and severe floods.

Much of Europe falls into this category, as do parts of the USA, Brazil, Argentina, China, Japan, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Basically anywhere coloured in light green on this map:

I live in the UK. Outside of my house I have an olive tree. Olives are usually grown in the Middle East and Mediterranean, where of course it is a lot warmer than the UK. My tree still manages to provide yields every year (though admittedly not very consistent ones), despite receiving frost in the winter and abundant rainfall.

I also grow tomatoes outside (i.e. not in a greenhouse). They grow better in a greenhouse, but I still manage to grow plenty of fresh tomatoes. I’ve grown chillies before as well.

You can even grow citrus fruits outside in the UK with some modern varieties. Here’s a guide someone wrote on growing these fruits in the UK: Growing Citrus Fruits | Lemons | Limes | Oranges | How To Grow | Grow Your Own

All these crops grow best in much warmer conditions, but they do manage in the cooler temperate regions.

I also grow cold-loving vegetables in my garden like carrots, leeks and parsnips. I’ve also grow plums and, right now, my raspberry bush is producing lots of delicious raspberries. Many of these crops would not survive in much warmer climates.

As I’ve already said, the tolerance ranges of different crops are increasing year on year. Technology increases these ranges even further.

In which areas of the world can the largest variety of crops be produced?