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So Long Prarieland: Corn and Climate Change in America

by Kate Morris, published

In the past five years corn and soy production has razed nearly 2 million acres of US Western grasslands. In the past five years corn and soy production has razed nearly 2 million acres of US Western grasslands.

For the better part of the past decade, Climate change in America has been a hotly contested topic, kicked around all sides of the U.S. political arena. Whatever side of the environmental theorist's camp we stand on, two recently-published reports are illuminating some apprehensive trends in America’s agriculture industry.

The first came out last month in proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Researchers from South Dakota State University published a report that tracked land use in what they call the “Western Corn Belt (WCB)” -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Tweet study: Tweet

Their findings showed grasslands across the region are changing over to soy and corn production at a rate "comparable to deforestation…in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia."

Nearly 2 million acres of grassland, an area about the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, succumbed to cornrows just during this five year study. Tweet stat: Tweet

This kind of conversion in the Corn Belt predates last century’s Great Depression, not “since the 1920s and 1930s, the era of rapid mechanization of US agriculture” has America’s prairieland experienced comparable grassland loss. 

The grasslands featured in this report were not the rugged plains of the early frontier. “More than 99% of presettlement tallgrass prairie has been converted to other land covers,” much of it already existing farmland, the study showed. Tweet stat: Tweet

The second report came out earlier this month. Conducted and released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this extensive report focused specifically on "Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States."

The primary focus of the 186-page document considered whether America’s current corn-and-soy dominated harvest -- now planted across nearly half the country’s farmland -- will be able to stand up to North America’s rising temperatures.

In the short term, the USDA predicts our current system to remain "resilient to climate change." The long-term forecast is where things get ominous.

By mid-century, when "temperature increases are expected to exceed 1°C to 3°C and precipitation extremes intensify," these experts predict America’s farmers will suffer major yield declines for major US crops. Share the news: Tweet

Global warming or not, our growing dependence on corn and soy production ought to be the ultimate concern for North America. Corn and soy production currently blankets almost half of America’s arable land.

Basic microeconomics, and the proven historical record of developing market economies across the post-Colonial world, show what can happen if America moves toward an undiversified agricultural system.

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