Tag Archives: food

Corn Yield Higher As Temperatures Warm

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By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

A changing climate has contributed to higher maize yields in Michigan and other Corn Belt states, a new study has found.

It attributes more than one-quarter – 28 percent – of the region’s higher crop yield since 1981 to trends toward overall warmer conditions, cooling of the hottest growing-season temperatures and farmers’ climate-related earlier planting and choice of longer-maturing varieties.

The climate trend accounts for 15 percent of the total yield gain, said lead author Ethan Butler of the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources.

Maize is “an important food, feed and fuel crop in the Midwest that is both highly productive and strongly influenced by temperature,” according to the study. It includes corn used as grain for processed food, sweeteners and alcohol, animal feed and ethanol but not sweet corn.

“Recognition that historical improvements in climate suggests that sustaining positive yield trends depends more on climate than previously appreciated,” the study said.

Butler and researchers at the University of California Irvine and Harvard examined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data for 1981 through 2017 for 12 Corn Belt states, including six in the Great Lakes Basin – Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois. The others are Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Butler, a climate ecologist, said it’s the first such study involving the U.S. maize crop

The figures varied among the states, climate and trends in how farmers manage the timing of when their crop is planted and how long it takes to mature.  Combined, they accounted for an average 28-percent increase in yield across the Midwest, according to the study, “Peculiarly Pleasant Weather for U.S. Maize.”

Perhaps the study’s most surprising finding is that the hottest temperatures “have actually cooled” during the past 36 years in the Corn Belt, unlike in other parts of the country, Butler said. That means fewer “killing degree days” in which the crop is exposed to damaging high heat.

Lenawee County is Michigan’s leader in corn production, USDA data shows. Other counties in the top 10 include St. Joseph, Ionia, Allegan and Montcalm.

Overall, the state’s crop is worth more than $1 billion a year, with annual production of about 300 million bushels, according to the Michigan Corn Growers Association.

However, Jim Zook, the association’s executive director, cautioned that the study should be taken “with a grain of salt” because yield has steadily increased since 1936 in the state.

Zook attributes the higher yield primarily to improved technology in the seeds – the kernels –that “protects and enhances” traits that increase yield, as well as to advances in the precision of machinery that farmers use in the field.

And he questioned the study’s assessment that changing temperatures play an important role in higher yields. “We can only plant when ground conditions get over 50 degrees,” he said.

Butler agreed that the majority of the increase is due to non-climatic factors such as better agricultural technology, improved genetic stock and better crop management techniques.

Butler said, “Across the Corn Belt, what farmers have been doing has worked out really well.”

While yield has improved in Michigan, total annual production is down because the state’s farmers have been planting fewer acres since the peak of almost 356 million bushels in 2014, according to the Corn Growers Association website.

The reason is economics, Zook said. When maize prices are low, farmers shift their land to more profitable crops such as wheat, soybeans and dry beans.

The study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” said continued improvements in yield “are critical to meeting the demands of a growing and more affluent world population.”

But it warned that there’s no guarantee that “beneficial climate trends” will continue and Butler emphasized that the research team’s historical analysis doesn’t speculate about the future. Climate scientists say that a warming climate leads to more frequent extreme weather events.

As the study put it, “Whether historical patterns of adaptation will prove successful under future climate is also unclear. If droughts like those in 1988 and 2012 grow more frequent or intense, they could overwhelm the benefits of planting longer-maturing varieties



Fixing food labeling to end world hunger

By Max Johnston

Today’s idea to make the world less hungry is to regulate and standardize the date labels on our food.

If you wander through your local grocery store, you’re likely to see a lot of ‘labels’ with dates preceded by a warning of sorts.

“Best if used by,” this date, “sell by,” that date, “use by”…this date.

These labels can have different meanings, some are for freshness, others are for quality, but all these labels do have one thing in common: they’re confusing.

The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that 20% of food waste that occurs at home, stems from confusion over what these labels mean.

In other words, people are throwing away good food, because they think that if it’s past the “best if used by” date, it’s spoiled. That isn’t the case.

In this episode, you’ll hear about why these labels are causing food waste, and past and future legislation to simplify food labels.

Listen here

Northern Michigan pioneers effort to reduce food waste


Emmet County’s recycling program has been recognized as one of four model programs in Michgian for having a high quality service that matches the needs of the community.

The Michigan Profile of Recycling Programs and Potential Recycling studied recycling programs across the state, concluding that the level of participation among residents and businesses is a strong social cue to encourage others to recycle. The study was done by the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments with a grant from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Under a recent law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, beginning October 1, establishments that recycle 100 tons or more per year must collect data and report their activities to the state. The law requires the Department of Environmental Quality to operate a statewide database of recycling efforts, exclusive of food waste, by the facilities, which will be published annually online. Continue reading Northern Michigan pioneers effort to reduce food waste

Rescued food feeds the poor

By Karen Hopper Usher

Trucks carrying some 40,000 tons of cherries will drop them off this month in Cadillac to fill food bank shelves in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

It’s part of a statewide effort to reduce food waste and put it to use feeding poor people.

“The state is one of the winners when hunger comes off the table,” said Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan. Continue reading Rescued food feeds the poor

Cassava: the Rambo of root crops

By David Poulson

Here’s a presentation of an innovative research project that also demonstrates some strong public engagement tools. Among them:

  • Length – It comes in under three minutes yet contains a remarkable amount of information. But just because it ends there doesn’t mean that communication ends with the presentation. This is the kind of thing that could well promote continued questions and conversation.
  • Popular culture reference – You have to capture your audience’s attention before you can inform them. The speaker does this with the references to Rambo in both the title and in his first sentence after greeting us: “Let’s think for a moment about Rambo.”
  • AlliterationRambo root has a nice ring.
  • Humor – “And yes, you’re in the right room.” That sentence prompts a chuckle.
  • The turn – This is where the speaker pivots from the funny, to the substantive – aided with some simple visuals. We quickly learn the attributes of cassava – it adjusts to climate change, there is potential to increase yields, it requires minimal inputs.
  • The metaphor – What if parents had a tool to help children realize their full potential? That’s what we’re going to do with cassava.

Continue reading Cassava: the Rambo of root crops