The Corn Belt includes western Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas. Climate change will make the U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn and other crops by 2100, a new study finds.
According to the researchers, this transition is inevitable without major technological advances in agriculture and significant diversification beyond the major commodity crops that dominate U.S. agriculture.
Emory environmental scientist Emily Burchfield said climate change will continue to shift U.S. cultivation north. "Technology alone won't save us. Now is the time to rethink what and how we grow food to create more sustainable and resilient agriculture.
80% of U.S. farmland is used to grow alfalfa, corn, hay, soy, and wheat. Professor Burchfield used historical land-use data to project biophysically driven shifts in crop cultivation to 2100 under low-, moderate-, and high-emissions scenarios.
Even under moderate-emissions scenarios, the cultivation geographies of these major crops will shift north, making the Corn Belt unsuitable for corn by the end of the century.
“These projections may be pessimistic because they don't account for all the ways technology can help farmers adapt,” said Professor Burchfield. Relying solely on technology is risky. We'll reach ecological collapse if we ignore biophysical realities.
She thinks agricultural systems should diversify beyond these major crops. Professor Burchfield explained that diverse ecosystems are more resilient.
A single-plant landscape is fragile and brittle. More diverse agricultural landscapes are also more productive.
"We must switch from incentivizing intensive cultivation of five or six crops to supporting farmers' ability to experiment and adopt the best crops for their landscape.