NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Climate Change Could Benefit Crops

March 11, 2004

Climate change could boost yields from one of America's most important crops, say plant biologists who have simulated the expected atmospheric conditions of 2050 in a U.S. field.

Andrew Leakey of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign exposed the plants to the increased levels of ozone and carbon dioxide (CO2) predicted by climate-change models. Atmospheric concentrations of both gases are increasing thanks to the burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants, says Leakey.

According to Leakey:

  • Increased amounts of ozone cut soybean production by around 20 percent; however, the beneficial effect of the carbon dioxide more than compensates for this effect.
  • As a result, there could be an increase in soy yields of 13 percent by 2050 (U.S. farmers currently plant about 150 million acres of soybean a year).

Previous studies have shown that the effects of climate change on crops are complex. Although increased carbon dioxide -- a nutrient for plants -- generally stimulates growth, climate change is expected to alter everything from the amount of nitrogen in the soil to the amount of rain. All of these changes will have different impacts on plant growth, says Leakey.

Source: Jim Giles, "Climate Change Could Boost Cash Crops," Nature News Service, February 2004.


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