By the time today’s elementary schoolers graduate from college, the U.S. corn belt could be forced to move to the Canadian border to escape devastating heat waves brought on by rising global temperatures.
If farmers don’t move their corn north, the more frequent heat waves could lead to bigger swings in corn prices – “price volatility” – which cause spikes in food prices, farmers’ incomes and the price livestock farmers and ethanol producers pay for corn.
A study published April 22 in the journal Nature Climate Change shows for the first time climate change’s outsized influence on year-to-year swings in corn prices.
Researchers from Stanford and Purdue universities found that climate change’s impact on corn price volatility could far outweigh the volatility caused by changing oil prices or government energy policies mandating biofuels production from corn and other crops.
“Frankly, I was surprised that climate had the largest effect of these three influences,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences and a fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “These are substantial changes in price volatility that come from relatively moderate global warming.”
The study, based on economic, climatic and agricultural data and computational models, finds that even if climate change stays within the internationally recognized target limit of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, the temperature changes could still make damaging heat waves much more common over the U.S. corn belt.