Bounty of corn crop contributing to hot, sticky, stormy summer

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Are summers in the Midwest getting hotter or is it just in your head?

The experts say the humidity is actually the aggravating factor and farming is playing a role.

In states like Illinois we rely heavily on corn and soybean crops. The idea of general farming is a thing of the past. Farmers today are specialists and they are getting technically really good at producing a lot of crops at one time. Sun and water the key. And we’re getting a lot of it this summer.

Believe it or not, it does come at a price for the rest of us. Our summers are more humid as a result.

Dr. Dave Changnon from Northern Illinois University knows something about climate change and our farms. Yes, those hearty crops in DeKalb are affecting the weather as far away as Chicago.

Everybody felt it this past week.

“The distance between rows has shrunk over time,” Dr Changon says.  “In other words it used to be 40 inches between rows. Now we’re at 30. Some farmers have gone to 22.”

Those more narrow rows are allowing farmers to plant more seeds per acre. In the old days, it was 18,000 seeds per acre. These days they can produce 40,000, yielding roughly 150 bushels per acre. Back in the 1950’s, it was less than a third of that.

So what’s it mean? A bumper crop? Two ears to a stalk is good, right? Not so, say climatologists. They point to evapotranspiration or E.T. as the root of the problem.

“Each one of these leaves transpires water. It comes from the root system and releases it back out into the atmosphere,” Dr Changon says.   “it’s putting out a lot more atmospheric moisture over the same area it did 50 years ago and that creates a greater opportunity for higher dew points.”

Higher dew points.   Also known as humidity.  Just like Chicagoans experienced in the deadly heat wave of 1995 when over 700 people perished.

It also can produce a fierce storms like Chicago has seen in recent days this summer with powerful rains with massive amounts of water in a short period of time.

The dense crops these days are 8-10 feet tall and in another two weeks, they will be peaking. And so might the dew point.

“What we’re getting from that highly productive agricultural system is an output that has tweaked our regional climate,” Dr Changon.  “It’s not much, but just a little bit. Enough that we are feeling it in a way we may not have felt it 50-60 years ago.”

Dr. Changnon says we can’t get rid of it.  It’s too important when it comes to feeding the world and feeding our Illinois economy. But the idea that there is so much output from this newer, more dense way of farming points directly, he says, to man-created climate change.

He believes farmers, in the next 25 years, will be able to produce 250-350 bushels per acre – about double from today’s numbers.


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