Christopher Field

Post image for ♫ Corn Is Busting Out All Over ♫ (Update on Global Warming and the Death of Corn)

About a year ago on this blog, I offered some skeptical commentary about the gloomy testimony of Dr. Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who warned the House Energy & Commerce Committee that global warming would inflict major losses on U.S. corn crop production unless scientists develop varieties with improved heat resistence.

I noted that long-term U.S. corn production was increasing, including in areas where average summer temperatures exceed 84°F, the threshold beyond which corn yields fall, according to Field.

Well, this just in, courtesy of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA): USDA projects the U.S. corn crop for 2012 to reach 14.79 billion bushels, the biggest ever. RFA’s objective, of course, is not to debunk climate alarm, but to assure us that we can have our corn (ethanol) and eat it too. Nonetheless, the numbers are mighty impressive and indicate that, in this decade at least, U.S. corn farmers are more than a match for climate change. From RFA’s briefing memo:

At 14.79 billion bushels, the 2012 corn crop would:

  • be a record crop by far, beating the 2009 crop of 13.09 billion bushels by 11%.
  • be 65% larger than the crop from 10 years ago (8.97 billion bushels in 2002).
  • be more than twice as large as the average-sized annual corn crop in the decade of the 1980s (7.15 billion bushels on average).

The 2012 projected yield of 166 bushels per acre would:

  • be a record yield, beating out the 2009 average yield of 164.7 bushels per acre.
  • be only the third time in history yields have topped 160 bu/acre, the others being 2009 (164.7) and 2004 (160.4).
  • be 35% higher than the average yield from the 1990s and 12% higher than the average yield since 2000.

At Tuesday’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulation, Dr. Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science, presented a scary assessment of global warming’s impact on U.S. grain yields. Field’s written testimony states, in pertinent part:

In the United States, the observed temperature sensitivity of three major crops is even more striking. Based on a careful county-by county analysis of patterns of climate and yields of corn, soybeans, and cotton, Schlenker and Roberts (Schlenker and Roberts 2009) concluded that observed yields from all farms and farmers are relatively insensitive to temperature up to a threshold but fall rapidly as temperatures rise above the threshold. For farms in the United States, the temperature threshold is 84˚F for corn, 86˚F for soybeans, and 90˚F for cotton. For corn, a single day at 104˚F instead of 84˚F reduces observed yields by about 7%. These temperature sensitivities are based on observed responses, including data from all of the US counties that grow cotton and all of the Eastern counties that grow corn or soybeans. These are not simulated responses. They are observed in the aggregate yields of thousands of farms in thousands of locations. [click to continue…]