A-maize-ing! Corn Production Boosted by Warm Temperatures

  • Date: 07/11/18
  • Science Daily

Increased production of corn in the United States has largely been credited to advances in farming technology but new research shows that changing temperatures play a significant role in crop yield.

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The past 70 years have been good for corn production in the midwestern United States, with yields increasing fivefold since the 1940s. Much of this improvement has been credited to advances in farming technology but researchers at Harvard University are asking if changes in climate and local temperature may be playing a bigger role than previously thought.

In a new paper, researchers found that a prolonged growing season due to increased temperatures, combined with the natural cooling effects of large fields of plants, have had a major contribution to improved corn production in the U.S.

“Our research shows that improvements in crop yield depend, in part, on improvements in climate,” said Peter Huybers, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) and of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “In this case, changing temperatures have had a beneficial impact on agricultural production, but there is no guarantee that benefit will last as the climate continues to change. Understanding the detailed relationships between climate and crop yield is important as we move towards feeding a growing population on a changing planet.”

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers modeled the relationship between temperature and crop yield from 1981 to 2017 across the so-called Corn Belt: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. They found that as temperatures increased due to global climate change, planting days got earlier and earlier, shifting by about three days per decade.

Journal Reference:

Ethan E. Butler, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Peter Huybers. Peculiarly pleasant weather for US maize. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201808035 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1808035115

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