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Climate change helping grow more corn, soybeans in the Upper Midwest

Upper Midwest aided by heavier rain, higher temperatures: study

Chicago Tribune/TNS

Non-GMO corn is emptied into non-GMO butlers at a grain storage company in Nauvoo, Ill.
Chicago Tribune/TNS Non-GMO corn is emptied into non-GMO butlers at a grain storage company in Nauvoo, Ill.

MINNEAPOLIS — The uneven effects of climate change actually is helping corn and soybean farmers in Iowa and the Upper Midwest.

Higher temperatures and heavier precipitation have increased yields for corn and soybeans in much of Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, according to a statistical analysis conducted at the University of Minnesota. The study highlights the disparate effects of climate change, even within a region.

Soybean yields have improved in the Western Hemisphere and North Africa thanks to the changing climate, but have suffered in Eastern Europe. Even as corn harvests have benefited in Iowa and Minnesota, they have suffered in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

“It was totally a surprise,” said Deepak Ray, a researcher at the Institute on the Environment at the university and lead author of the study. “I was expecting there would be winners and losers, but I was expecting the Upper Midwest to be a loser.”

The study’s authors — who controlled for improved farm technology and management — built a data set of yields for 10 major crops and weather over decades across the globe to figure out what effect the changing climate has had.

In much of the world, the effect has been negative. Global palm oil, barley, rice and wheat yields have fallen.

Soybean yields in Western Europe have dropped 22 percent, and corn yields in Eastern and Northern Europe have dropped by 25 percent as a result of climate change, according to the study.

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Global corn yields have held steady despite the declines in Europe, thanks to improving conditions in South America, but soybeans have been a big winner across the world.

Global soybean yields are up 3.5 percent as a result of a climate change, the study said. Much of that benefit falls to farmers in the Upper Midwest.

Sorghum, which in the United States is mostly grown in Great Plains states, also has enjoyed increased yields thanks to climate change, the study said.

Wheat yields have suffered in the Upper Midwest compared to a hypothetically cooler climate.

Whether the changes to the climate will continue to benefit farmers in Iowa and Minnesota is another question, Ray said.

“At present we are sitting in a very nice climatic condition,” he said. “I don’t know if that will change.”

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