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Global Warming And American Corn

We should all hope that the forecasts for today and early next week are accurate.  Parts of the Midwest are expected to finally get significant rainfall, and if they do it will be an answer to fervent prayers for some farmers.  Whatever respite from the heat the region does see, it will certainly not be sufficiently widespread, and in the areas that do acquire a little moisture it remains to be seen whether it will be enough and whether it will have come early enough to same imperiled crops.

US corn may be in serious trouble.  The Department of Agriculture’s projections for yields have already diminished by twenty bushels per acre, and prices are up a remarkable thirty-seven percent since the beginning of June.  The newly forecasted rain is so desperately needed because much of the region had virtually no precipitation for six weeks, coupled with unusually searing temperatures.  The heat is actually expected to worsen even as rain trickles into parts of the area in the coming days.

This drought is apparently the worst since 1988, and it came at a time when the corn crop was particularly vulnerable and would ordinarily be pollinating.  While many farmers are necessarily remaining hopeful of a turnaround, some growers and other observers are anticipating a tremendous shock to the agriculture market.

There’s a rather tightly woven tapestry of problems at hand here that could, in the worst case scenario, turn a feedback loop into an incredibly vicious cycle.  The threat of drought and debilitating heat is made worse by global warming, while a lack of biodiversity makes it more difficult to combat that growing problem by natural means.

Meanwhile, our lack of biodiversity means the failure of one crop could be crippling to much of the market for food.  The situation of our reliance on corn has, in the past, been compared to Ireland prior to the potato famine.  Our dependence on corn alone may be less obvious on account of how many manufactured goods we use, but corn is a base ingredient in about seventy-five percent of grocery items.  Substantially reduced corn yields mean higher prices of pretty much everything an American family needs.  In fact, if you notice a drop in meat prices in the short term, it means that a lack of corn feed has sent many animals prematurely to slaughter, so prices will rise next year when cattle is in short supply.

We need more biodiversity in the United States.  Heavily subsidized corn and soy crops help to keep food prices low, but only as long as American agriculture faces no serious difficulties.  If it does, it can be catastrophic, leaving us little to fall back on.  And the threat of catastrophe grows worse with every year that global warming goes on virtually unchecked.  We can find smarter, more forward-thinking ways of promoting food security in this country, and we can be similarly forward-thinking when it comes to the security of the global climate

I large tracts of corn fail to grow – and right now on some farms bare soil remains where the land should be covered in green growth – then not only does that mean a hungrier population in coming months, it also means there is that much less carbon dioxide that has been drawn out of the atmosphere.  Every significant crop failure is also a failure of the natural barriers to global warming, and as that problem worsens, the problems faced this year by the agriculture market run a greater risk of returning in coming years.

Increased biodiversity ought to be part of a comprehensive approach to climate progress and food production, which includes a fallback plan for potential problems in both areas.  A more diverse American diet would be to our great benefit, if it could be made affordable to all.  But that aside, a greater overall diversity of agriculture, focusing on fast growing crops and high oxygen production could have a crucially positive impact on climate in future years.

Planting more bamboo in areas with a different climate from the Midwest, such as the Southeast and the Mississippi valley, could more than make up for the deficiencies in oxygen production left in the wake of large die-offs of staple crops like corn.  That bamboo would produce two-thirds more oxygen than even an equivalent number of trees, as well as regenerating with incredible speed after being harvested for any number of commercial applications, like construction, home gardening, and bamboo clothing.

Ultimately, the agricultural and consumer practices that we rely on for those sorts of goods have an impact on how much we can rely on the crops that we need for our food production.  As it stands, we may not be able to rely on corn because we certainly can’t rely on the weather.  So by all means, pray for rain, but work for biodiversity.