New Research Shows Large Impacts on Crops from Climate Change

Jul 5, 2018

Corn is part of half of Wisconsin's top commodities

MILWAUKEE - While warmer average temperatures can have a dramatic impact on colder climates globally, new research shows how much it can affect crop growth if it changes by just a few degrees Celsius.

For Wisconsin, one crop that would be affected most is corn. The research, headed by postdoctoral researcher Michelle Tigchelaar at the University of Washington, shows that a 2-to-4-degrees Celsius increase in average temperature would decrease crop yields by at least 18 percent across the United States. Tigchelaar says the range of the temperature increase will be a large determinant on the scale of crop failures. "So with 2 degrees of warming, the effects are severe but somewhat manageable," she says. "But with 4 degrees of warming, it becomes really sort of something that we haven't quite seen before." The study by Tigchelaar and her team looked at crop yield effects around the globe, including China and Brazil.

The research observed weather patterns along with corn yields to predict its findings. An 18 percent decrease in crop yields would mean a Wisconsin farmer expecting 175 bushels of corn per acre would only bring in about 144 bushels. That would have a large effect on other products such as corn syrup, meat and beets. Environmentally friendly structural changes and crop adaption to higher temperatures are all possibilities for limiting the damage of harvests.

For farmers, Tigchelarr says environmental changes are just one of the ongoing obstacles. "They deal with changes in their environment regularly, so to some degree you can adapt your farming practices by planting of different dates or planting a slightly different variety," she states. Some scientists expect the development of biotechnology and farm management would allow corn to grow as normal despite climate changes.