Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Quandry of Corn and Climate Change

The people of the world are dependent on corn. Over the last century corn production and distribution has changed the way in which we live. Over 270 million metric tons of corn are produced annually in the U.S. alone. Corn may be the most important grain crop on the planet. Corn is used widely in the foods we eat. We feed corn to livestock and chickens. A short list of corn uses includes fuel, cooking oil, meal, sugar, starch and for growing penicillin. Much of the world is dependent on corn production to remain at current levels.

Recently a primary use of corn has been for ethanol production. Forty percent of corn grown in the U.S. is now used to make ethanol. The impacts in this shift of corn production to biofuel use has impacted the worlds economy and food supply.

However recent research has found that climate change will have a far greater impact on the corn supply then other uses such as ethonal. The result will cause a volatile global economy and shortages in the worlds food supply. Economists have warned that our growing dependence on corn will cause soaring prices for food if the nation suffers a drought in the Midwest. This year we are seeing such a drought, and world corn prices have jumped 55%.

Climate change models suggest that a moderate warming trend is likely to increase the number of days of severe heat in the Midwest growing season. Therefore we can expect corn yields to decrease and fuel and food prices to rise. In addition scientists have claimed that India and China, Asia's largest corn producers, will experience severe dry conditions due to climate change as well, prompting the need for the region to import corn.

What is the cost of our corn dependance? Do the benefits such as greenhouse gas reduction from the "green" fuel it produces outweigh the cost of corn production? Fertilizers produced from oil are used in vast quantities to grow corn. In addition the Mississippi River contributes significant amounts of water to irrigate these crops at a time when the flows of the river will be diminishing. Should our food supply and global economy be teetering on the success or failure of a single grain? Climate change could make this years Midwest drought the norm over the next couple decades. As climate change causes corn yields to decrease we need to ask ourselves how can we diversify our grain production and who should eat what little corn is produced; people or cars?

No comments:

Post a Comment