A new study financed by the U.S. Department of Energy finds that if global climate change continues unchecked, the United States breadbasket might someday be located in Canada. Based on research by scientists at Stanford and Purdue Universities, the findings reveal that heat waves sparked by rising global temperatures will likely decimate the American corn industry, delivering a crippling blow to the world’s food supply.
“Breadbasket” is a term used to refer to regions which contain grow most of the country’s grain crop. In America this region is also known as the Great Plains, and is concentrated in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Although it’s not the only grain crop grown in America’s heartland, corn has long been a staple of the breadbasket states.
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If farmers don’t move their corn north within the next decade, the more frequent heat waves could lead to bigger swings in corn prices, or price volatility, which cause spikes in food prices, farmers’ incomes and the price livestock farmers and ethanol producers pay for corn.
The study, recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that climate change’s impact on corn price volatility could far outweigh the volatility caused by changing oil prices or government energy policies mandating biofuels production from corn and other crops.
Based on economic, climatic and agricultural data and computational models, the study finds that even if climate change stays within the internationally recognized target limit of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, the temperature changes could still make damaging heat waves much more common over the U.S. corn belt.
“Severe heat is the big hammer,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences. “Even one or two degrees of global warming is likely to substantially increase heat waves that lead to low-yield years and more price volatility.”
When researchers took federal mandates for biofuel production into account, the picture is even more grim. Increasing heat waves will lead to low-yield years, and government-mandated corn sales to ethanol producers limit the market’s ability to buffer against low-yield years. Thankfully, citizen action pushed Congress to vote against renewing the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit–a huge subsidy for the ethanol industry–earlier this year.
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