Warming May Trigger More Volatility in Corn Prices, Study Says

The effects of climate change across the U.S.’s corn belt could have a far greater effect on the volatility of corn prices over the next three decades than fluctuating oil prices or federal policies on biofuel production, according to a new study. In an analysis of economic, climatic, and agricultural data, researchers from Stanford and Purdue universities calculated that even if global temperature increases are limited to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels — a target some climate scientists have suggested is key to averting catastrophic changes — such increases would lead to more damaging heat waves in the nation’s major corn-growing regions. And if farmers do not adjust to changing climate conditions — either by moving crops to the north or increasing the heat-tolerance of crops — these changes could cause sharp increases in corn price volatility from 2020 to 2040, which could affect food prices, farmer incomes, and livestock prices. “Severe heat is the big hammer,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor at Stanford and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.