USDA: Climate Will Crush Crops

July 31, 2019

Wall Street Journal:

Unchecked climate change could mean that the weather conditions hurting farmers this year will become increasingly common and result in higher costs for the federal government, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The report, issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, found that if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue to increase, U.S. production of corn and soybeans—which are more susceptible to extreme heat during growing season—could decline as much as 80% in the next 60 years.

As a result, corn and soybean prices would skyrocket in that period, as would the cost of crop insurance. According to the study, the cost of crop insurance to the federal government could rise to $7.6 billion a year for corn and $3.3 billion for soybeans. By comparison, the USDA has spent roughly $300 million on insurance for the 2019 crop year as of July 15.

Federally subsidized crop insurance covers as much as 85% of a farmer’s acres against natural disasters or declines in commodity prices. The government subsidizes 62% of the insurance premium on average.

“We show in the report that the cost of the crop insurance program will increase with global warming,” said Andrew Crane-Droesch, a research economist with the ERS and one of the authors of the report.

Last year was the fourth-warmest year on record since 1880, according to a February report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The hottest year was 2016, followed by 2017 and 2015, with 2014 as the fifth hottest on record. 

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency show that gross U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.3% from 1990 to 2017. However, emissions shot up 3.4% in 2018, attributed to a surge in the economy. It was the largest jump in emissions since 2010. 

The ERS study examined five climate models using three projections of emissions—one where there is no mitigation of emissions, another with some mitigation, and keeping them at their current level. Computer simulations were then run to play out the models with the different emission levels from 2060 to 2099. 

Midwest farmers are being punished by adverse weather this year. Extremely wet weather this spring left many unable to fully plant their crops, and now summertime heat could kill a sizable portion of the plants that managed to sprout. The USDA is still determining how many acres will be left unplanted as a result of this year’s tough weather, but estimates place unplanted acres as high as 15 million for corn—well above the 2013 record of 3.6 million corn acres.

Grain prices have risen since weather problems during the planting season began to surface in May. Corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen 16% since May 1, while soybean futures are up 3%. According to Mr. Crane-Droesch, the models used by the ERS show that farmers are in for more difficult springs as climate change gets more severe.

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9 Responses to “USDA: Climate Will Crush Crops”

    • jimbills Says:

      They aren’t exactly ‘self-deporting’, as this was a decision from on high, but yeah.

      The scientists said climate change will crush crops in an administration where climate change doesn’t exist, so instead of heeding the warning, Trump and Sonny Perdue decided to crush the scientists.

      It’s a distinct pattern in this administration – toe the political line and never cross Trump, or be removed.

      It’s happening in the Interior Department as well:
      https://www.virginiamercury.com/2019/07/25/trumps-interior-department-is-sidelining-scientists-experts-warn-lawmakers-virginia-congressmen-skip-hearing/

      All of this will have long-term consequences to the government beyond the relatively short span of a 4-8 year Presidency.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Maybe the need to deport Baltimore, The Squad, and Al Sharpton first will distract them from the scientists for a while.

        And what’s with the mindless yadda-yadda about crop insurance cost increases in the face of this revelation?”——if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue to increase, U.S. production of corn and soybeans—which are more susceptible to extreme heat during growing season—could decline as much as 80% in the next 60 years”.

        An 80% decline here means STARVATION and food wars elsewhere in the world. Or has no one looked at that?

        • jimbills Says:

          The video above has a point as well. Corn is produced in a handful of distinct areas on the globe. The chances of all of these regions having significant crop declines at the same time now is essentially zero. At 2 degrees C it’s 7% (or, 1 in every 14 years), and at 4 degrees C it’s 86%. Under those scenarios the world as a whole wouldn’t starve, there still would be production, but prices would shoot up to strongly affect economies, and the poor likely would go without. Nothing threatens governmental stability more than a food shortage.

          I read the summary linked above. It doesn’t include how they arrived at the 80% U.S. failure number. That’s really high – even with all of the flooding this year, we’re talking about an 8-10% yield loss:
          https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/accuweathers-new-analysis-predicts-substantial-2019-crop-yield-shortfall/70008508

          I suspect 80% is something like an absolute worst case scenario at RCP 8.5. The USDA summary instead is all about the insurance increases.

          But, that’s an economist for you – don’t look at the human toll of a crop failure, look at the insurance cost increase.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “…. that’s an economist for you – don’t look at the human toll of a crop failure, look at the insurance cost increase.” My point exactly. Just as the “capitalist” looks only at how they might profit. Take those Soylent Green factories out of mothballs.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          This is why you point out the near-term effects of the economy:

          • jimbills Says:

            I don’t know – color me skeptical about that one, personally.

            It seems to me talking about climate change on the economic level is too abstract for most people. For instance, if you say we’ll see a $500 billion cost increase to our total economy or a 1% loss to annual GDP – few would know what that actually means in real terms as it would apply to them.

            Or, it could be termed as you might lose your job – but say a janitor or teacher would ask how that’s possible. Even a highly vulnerable person like a manufacturer would think climate change isn’t a threat so much as it’s the corporation deciding if they want an extra dividend for their shareholders.

            It probably means more to the top 10% or so – who see the world not so much as a daily struggle to put food on the table and pay the bills but see it in terms of what year they can retire on their stock portfolio return (which would be the audience in that cartoon). But we saw in the last election that the top 10% aren’t as all powerful in elections as once thought.

            Additionally, economics as a whole is largely BS. There are countless contradictory studies. Some say a Green New Deal would cost $x trillion dollars. Some say it would save billions of dollars. Even the average joe would look at any one study and think it was written by either a liberal or a conservative and consider it virtually meaningless.

            I look at economic predictions that are 20+ years out and consider it nothing more than a wild guess. These guys are predicting insurance costs in 2080. It’s a guidepost at best.

            Finally, framing climate change as an economic threat minimizes the very real possibilities that it is a much more significant threat than the loss of a job or reduced corporate profits. It makes climate change seem like a minor, transitory threat. It hardly seems the great motivator to me as it appears to others.


  1. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    “Midwest farmers are being punished by adverse weather this year. Extremely wet weather this spring left many unable to fully plant their crops, and now summertime heat could kill a sizable portion of the plants that managed to sprout.”

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    In the interview, Tigchelaar points out how individual states shutting down their trade markets in the face of yield losses can aggravate the crop price fluctuations that an otherwise open international market could buffer. That is, the panicked self-interested response of a government can make things worse globally.


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