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.