By WEI YU
Capital News Service
LANSING – Climate change would influence the volatility of corn prices more than government energy policy or changing oil prices, a new study by researchers from Stanford and Purdue universities shows.
The study suggests that frequent heat waves will cause a sharp price lift unless heat-tolerant varieties are developed or the geographic concentration of corn production shifts.
That means Michigan’s Corn Belt could move north into the Northern Lower Peninsular and the Upper Peninsula.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn is the second top agricultural commodity in Michigan.
The top five counties growing corn are Huron, Lenawee, Saginaw, Cass and Sanilac, according to Michigan Agricultural Statistics.
Bob Boehm, manager of commodity and marketing department at the Michigan Farm Bureau, said having enough warm-degree days is usually a challenge in the state.
“We are on the northern edge of the Corn Belt, so having more warm weather is probably more favorable to Michigan than some other states because of our location,” Boehm said.
“Typically, long-day plants have a higher yield potential. If the weather would allow you to plant 105-day corn versus 95-day corn, that plant has longer to grow and mature and there will be more to harvest,” Boehm said. “So what we can do if the weather continues to warm is rather than planting 95-day corn, we can plant longer season varieties that already are available.”
Boehm said the state has plenty of water which is important to deal with higher temperatures. In addition, the northern part of state has a lot of underused land.
“We already have seen some expansion of corn and soybeans in places like Menominee County in the Upper Peninsula. I think it is better to utilize some of the land that we have available that hasn’t been as profitable in the past,” he said.
Most corn in the Upper Peninsula goes for silage, but a growing percent goes for dry shelled corn or corn for grain, according to Jim Isleib, a U.P. crop production educator at Michigan State University Extension.
“Even though the corn acreage is relatively small in Menominee County, the yield from variety trials in 2011 was excellent,” Isleib said.
“In the last two or three years, growing conditions have been warm in Menominee County. We had an accumulation of heat, and with adequate moisture corn has done better than usual,” he said.
But he said that the county has experienced dry times during the last few years, hurting pollination and yields. So in areas without adequate rain or irrigation, it didn’t perform well.
“There is much underused land across the Upper Peninsula. However, except for Menominee and Delta counties, as you get into the counties that are little further north, a lot of those agricultural lands don’t have desirable soil for corn. They are very heavy clay,” Isleib said.
“Although corn prices are good and farmers are making money, the prices for small grain such as wheat, canola and oats are also good, so there may be opportunities in areas that are not suitable for corn,” he said.
Jeffrey Andresen, associate professor of geography at MSU, said the temperature in the state has increased about 2 degrees fahrenheit on average during the last 30 years. The warmer temperature has made Michigan wetter, and the state gets 10 to15 percent more precipitation now than 50 years ago.
“Evidence indicates that the warmer weather in the last few decades has increased the production of corn. Production had been limited earlier by short growing seasons due to cold temperatures,” Andresen said.
“If we move the Corn Belt further north, my main concern would be the soils required for long-term sustainable agriculture,” Andresen said. “If we go too far north, the qualities and types of soil that we need just aren’t there.”
Andresen said technology will come up with at least partial solutions.
“Sometimes we can plant crops at different times of year to take advantage of cooler weather, or we can even change the crops we grow,” he said.
However, Paul Bertels, vice president of production and utilization at the National Corn Growers Association in Chesterfield, MO, said he doesn’t believe any climate scientist has demonstrated the impacts of global warming on a particular portion of the United States, like the Corn Belt.
He also raised a question based on the study: If increased heat pushes the Corn Belt into Canada, wouldn’t the same warming trend also lead to a longer growing season and earlier planting in the United States?
Dennis Raymo, communications director at the Michigan Corn Growers Association, agreed with Bertels.
He said the study makes conclusions that are highly speculative or faulty.
By WEI YU