URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Illinois is nationally known for its corn and soybeans, but did you know that at one point, we were known for our grapes as well? One conservation expert said that was a change impacted by climate.
The climate affects how crops grow in the area and changes what crops grow here.
Researchers at the University of Illinois were able to see what the next twenty years may look like for crops based on changes in the environment. While the warmer temperatures could bring the ability for more diverse produce, it will also bring some trouble with growing it.
“It’s warmer. I mean, you know, usually, we’ve had hard frosts by now and we’ve had very few. And importantly, it’s also warmer during the growing season,” said Don Ort, Crop Science Professor.
Ort has been looking into just how crops in Central Illinois are affected by the rising CO2 levels through a controlled field, but what he found was somewhat surprising.
“Many of our crops do respond favorably to elevated CO2, and they also respond by using less water,” Ort said.
Even with less water, Ort said it still won’t be enough to offset the amount of moisture that could be lost in the future.
“When the temperature goes up, the amount of water that goes into the atmosphere and is not available for the plants increases by a factor of ten,” Ort said.
But Illinois Corn Conservation Director Megan Dwyer said it isn’t all bad.
“I think about in years past, Illinois used to be a top grape producer. Is that something that comes back? We’re already one in pumpkins,” Dwyer said.
Researchers said climate change affects the conditions of crops already growing in one area, but that doesn’t mean another state can’t pick up the load.
“Looking across the United States, does it shift what crops are grown where and what that transportation or accessibility looks like from a local [standpoint] versus maybe a little bit further away,” Dwyer said.
There is a way to learn more about these benefits while also protecting the conditions that are already here. Ort and Dwyer said the answer could be more cover crops.
“I think this is a good example of where more research is needed, right, and some of that research has to be farmers taking a chance and putting them in the field,” Ort said.
Ort said some cover crops can lock in moisture while using less water annually, but others could wind up using more. He encourages everyone to try to make some type of eco-friendly change.