Farmers will need to adapt as Corn Belt shifts north

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Gradually, the Corn Belt has been shifting north as areas in North Dakota and Canada are now planting corn, soybeans and canola where they only used to be able to grow wheat. Likewise, parts of Kansas are decreasing their corn acres in favor of less water-intensive crops such as wheat, triticale and sorghum.

Corn acres in Manitoba, Canada, which is 700 miles north of Kansas, have doubled over the past decade as the weather has changed and prices have increased. In Kansas, 2012 brought the fewest corn acres in Kansas in three years.

The impact of the weather shift is causing agriculture to shift.

“These changes are happening faster than plants can adapt, so we will see substantial impacts on global growing patterns,” said Axel Schmidt, a former senior scientist for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture now with Catholic Relief Services.

An example of how growing corn is shifting northward is how agribusinesses reliant on processing corn are moving north. Cargill Inc. is investing in northern U.S. facilities, anticipating increased grain production in that part of the country, Greg Page, the chief executive officer of the Minneapolis-based company told Reuters.

“The number of rail cars, the number of silos, the amount of loading capacity” all change, Page told Reuters. “You can see capital go to where this ability to produce more tons per acre.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its plant hardiness map for the first time since 1990. The new map shifts many regions into zones that are 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the late 20th century.

Wolfram Schlenker, an environmental economist at Columbia University in New York told Reuters that the data show a climate in transition, with agriculture needing to adapt. Even small changes in average temperature may shift climate patterns, affecting rainfall, evaporation rates and the ability tof plants to thrive in certain environments, he said.

Although several seed companies are developing new varieties of corn, both through traditional means and genetically modified means, that better resist drought, the impact will only slightly mitigate the effects of climate change. New crops and the markets for those crops will need to be created in order to ease the transition for farmers and consumers.

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John Mannhaupt    
Dallas, TX  |  October, 17, 2012 at 09:53 AM

Is this evidence of climate change?

LaCrosse, WI  |  October, 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM

I doubt it is evidence of climate change. I much strongly believe it is the evidence of the advancements of corn hybrid genetics over the last 20 years. 80 day corn didn't have much yield 20 years ago, but with higher corn prices northern "limits" of the corn belt can enter the market on a profit-per-acre basis. Too many advancements in corn planting, growing, harvesting, and breeding technology for me to think it is a global warming trend.

MN  |  October, 18, 2012 at 08:23 AM

I agree. Hybrid advancements have allowed amazing yield performance under extreme growing condition swings. I believe the "cornbelt" area will expand more so than shift from south to north. Corn hybrid advancements down the road such as drought tolerance technologies will keep corn being raised in areas of limited moisture as long as the corn market stays strong. Even the soybean breeding advancements have created varieties in the earlier. 04-.08 range that can generate 50+ BPA yields for the northern growing environments. Many agronomic technological and production advancements have kept and will keep the yield trend moving.

Boise, ID  |  October, 18, 2012 at 11:05 AM

This is an economical issue. Land rent in North Dakota is so much cheaper than land rent in Iowa or the other corn producting states that we are making it an economical decision to grow more corn further north. Also, with the Ethenol mandate, there are more opportunities to sell corn in South Dakota and North Dakota that there was 10 years ago. If ethanol goes away or land rent in North or South Dakota goes up, we will see this change back to normal. It has nothing to do with seeds or climate, but everything economics.

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