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Climate change will lower Farm Belt yields ‘as soon as 2030,’ says report

For decades, farmers in the Midwest and Plains have reaped ever-higher yields per acre, but “climate change threatens to slow or reverse this productivity as soon as 2030,” said the Environmental Defense Fund on Wednesday. The “climate burdens” would worsen through 2050, the nonprofit group said in a report.

“In many of the most productive agricultural counties in the United States, higher temperatures and changes in rainfall will lower yields of staple crops below what technological innovations and improvements in management practices can recoup,” said the report. The group used an ensemble of 20 climate models to forecast the impact of climate change on yields at the county level in three major agricultural states.

At the end of this decade, corn yields in nearly all counties in Iowa would be at least 5% lower than they would have been without climate change and at least 10% lower in half of the state, said the report. Soybean yields in half of Minnesota would be more than 5% lower and more than 10% lower in 17% of the counties. Wheat yields in 88% of Kansas counties would be more than 5% lower.

“Whether incremental or transformative, the scale of change needed is likely to be immense” to adapt to climate change, said the report. “Having a range of options is important because it allows for the least disruptive approach — such as using an improved variety of the current crop — to be deployed first and then more transformative options — such as growing a new crop altogether — to be deployed later, as needed.”

The report, “How Climate Change Will Affect U.S. Corn, Soybean, and Wheat Yields,” is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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