Extraordinary rainfall has directly impacted the crops in the Midwest
After extensive rainfall the Midwest looks more like a marsh than the fertile fields that grow some of the nation’s most lucrative crops. That’s because this spring has been one of the wettest on record for the region, this rainfall has carried over to the summer season as well. As a result, many farmers have been forced to leave their fields empty. This makes traveling through parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa very sad and have left many farmers at a major loss.
And though it’s difficult to link one single weather event to climate change, climate scientists have been saying the devastating rains falling over the Midwest are exactly in line with what they’ve been predicting.
An atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign named Donald Wuebbles shared many details during an interview with National Geographic in June. He said, “Overall, it’s climate change, we expect an increase in total precipitation in the Midwest, especially in winter and spring, with more coming as larger events.”
Depending on the state, early June is the latest corn can be planted and mid-June is the latest soybeans can be planted. After that, temperatures climb too high and rain falls too little for the crop to be successful.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors crop progress during the planting season, and on May 28 they reported that only 58 percent of the corn that could be planted was in the ground. For soybeans, it was only 29 percent. That’s a big deal for U.S. farmers who supply a quarter of the world’s grains, a category that includes corn, wheat, and rice.
When the atmosphere is warmed up, it can hold more moisture. Scientist went on to explain that much of the rain falling over Midwestern states originated in the skies over the Gulf of Mexico, where waters have warmed. As that atmosphere above the gulf warms, it’s capable of holding more moisture, which it will ultimately dump somewhere. Last year, major flooding left behind by hurricanes was attributed to climate change-induced warming.
In the most recently published National Climate Assessment, in 2018, for which Easterling served as the director for the technical support unit, researchers concluded that the U.S. would face more catastrophic flooding that would affect infrastructure and crops.
As the atmosphere continues to warm up, scientist reported that you can expect to see more of these extreme events in the future. Rain does more than just prevent crops from being put in the ground. Once planted, the roots can be damaged by too much moisture, making it difficult for the plant to continue growing. Which is the case for some farmers that are working to produce a crop in some areas. One recently published study found that extreme rainfall can be just as bad for crops as drought or intense heat.
The economic impact facing farmers and consumers is uncertain, said Matthew Pots in an interview with National geographic, an economist who studies corn, soybean, and wheat markets.
He went on to state that a lot will depend on the growing season. This crop could go anywhere. It will be below trend line and will depend on summer weather. It’s going to be pollinating at a hot time, which could stress the crop as well.
With the low production, it is likely that corn used in cattle feed will likely be more expensive, indicating that the poor harvest will trickle into other industries and drive up some prices in the grocery stores.
As if this season’s rain wasn’t bad enough, farmers are also bearing the brunt of a trade war. In response to tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese imports last May, China has refused to buy U.S. crops like soy. Many farmers stock both corn and soybean seeds and turn to soy when they’re unable to fully plant corn. Without China, the market for that soy has shrunk.
Many researchers believe that you will see crop being modified to withstand floods and drought, but made a note that creating a plant that can do both will be extremely challenging. The recent climate change may push farmers to change their practices though they haven’t seen any changes yet. One question many researchers and scientist are wondering is if a year like this was enough to change the habits and practices of farmers.