Monday, October 11, 2010

Warming temperatures help shift crop patterns

Warming weather combined with increased rain have expanded the northern boundaries of the area where corn, soybeans and other crops can be grown in the Midwest. "Bruce Babcock, an Iowa State University agriculture economist, said soybean production is expanding north and the cornbelt is expanding north and west because of earlier planting dates and later freezes in the fall," Michael J. Crumb of The Associated Press reports. Jay Lawrimore, chief of climatic analysis for the Asheville, N.C.-based National Climactic Data Center, points to a seven percent increase in average U.S. rainfall over the last 50 years as a key factor in the shift.

"The storm tracks are moving northward as the climate warms," Lawrimore told Crumb. Data from NCDC shows "Earth's temperature has risen about 1.3 degrees since the late 1800s with the warming greatest over North America, Europe and Asia," Crumb writes. "Seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, data from the center shows." The expansion has been further accelerated as successful seed company efforts to adapt to the changes are coupled with warmer and wetter weather. "Plant seed companies are making more productive, short-season varieties," Babcock said. "It's both climate change but also technology change."

Excessive rains have hurt some farmers. "Jerry Main, who grows corn near Fairfield in southeast Iowa, said repeated deluges this spring prevented him from planting one-third of his 600 acres, making it one of the worst years he's seen," Crumb writes. Babcock explained, "It all depends how that comes about. In general, more rainfall means less irrigation and more ability to produce crops. Getting 4-inch rainfalls on a regular basis, that's not good for crops." (Read more)

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