The Van Trump Report

INTERESTING READ… Study Shows Crop Growth Locations Could Dramatically Shift

If Emily Burchfield, author of a recent study and assistant professor in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences is correct, the U.S. government might start to take a fresh look at what crops get subsidized and in what areas. 

Don’t kill the messenger on this one. This study was sent my way last week and it took me a while to get through it all. It’s interesting to see how some of the scientists are forecasting the shifts and changes in climate and how they could impact and change some of our most productive growing regions. Crazy to think about…   

According to Emily Burchfield, technological innovations simply won’t be enough to cure the ills of the oncoming climate changes that she says could severely disrupt growing crops in the Central and Eastern United States. 

Burchfield’s work goes beyond the previous research which was based on biophysical data and has established that climate change will adversely affect the yields of these main crops. For the current paper, Burchfield wanted to investigate the potential impacts of climate change on cultivation geographies. By combining spatial-temporal social and environmental data, she focused on the six major U.S. crops that cover +80% of cultivated land in the United States, alfalfa, corn, cotton, hay, soy and wheat. 

Using the data, she built models to predict where each crop has been grown during the 20 years spanning 2008 to 2019 and first ran models using only climate and soil data. These models accurately predicted between 85% and 95% of where these major crops are currently cultivated. Burchfield then ran a second set of models that incorporated indicators of human interventions, such as input use and crop insurance, meaning things that alter biophysical conditions to support cultivation. These models performed even better and highlighted the ways in which agricultural interventions expand and amplify the cultivation geographies supported only by climate and soil.

Using these historical models to project biophysically driven shifts in cultivation to 2100 under low-, moderate- and high-emission scenarios, the results suggest that even under moderate-emission scenarios, the cultivation geographies of corn, soy, alfalfa, and wheat will all shift strongly north. The researcher also predicts that by 2100, the more southern-lying states that make up the Corn Belt — including Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois — will likely struggle to produce the highest corn yiedls. Keep in mind, that even more severe emissions scenarios would exacerbate these changes.

Burchfield admits that these projections may be pessimistic as they don’t account for all of the ways that technology may help farmers adapt and rise to the challenge. She also noted that heavy investment is already going into studying the genetic modification of corn and soy plants to help them adapt to climate change, but as previously mentioned, she believes that relying on technology alone is a really risky way to approach the problem. We may not care to hear it but Burchfield shares that one of the basic laws of ecology is that more diverse ecosystems are more resilient and a landscape covered with a single plant is a fragile, brittle landscape. Admittedly, there is a growing body of evidence that more diverse agricultural landscapes are more productive.

Her point is simply that with the scientific data revealing that “monocropping” so many acres is inherently dangerous long-term and adding to the fact that the U.S. agricultural system incentivizes monoculture farming of a handful of commodity crops, largely through crop insurance and government subsidies, she believes it is time for the policymakers to take a new look at the system and how we can improve it so we can improve our soils before it’s too late. 

Burchfield writes, “We need to switch from incentivizing intensive cultivation of five or six crops to supporting farmers’ ability to experiment and adopt the crops that work best in their particular landscape. It’s important to begin thinking about how to transition out of our current damaging monoculture paradigm toward systems that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable for farmers, and climate-smart.”

You can read the full story titled, “Shifting Cultivation Geographies in the Central and Eastern US” HERE (Source: Science News;,

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