The move north of the American breadbasket will likely continue and even accelerate in coming years, according to a new study
America’s breadbasket isn’t where it used to be. The epicenter of agricultural production has moved north and west over the past half-century, and that trend will likely continue at an accelerated pace due to global warming, a new study finds.
Published yesterday in the online version of the journal Nature Climate Change, the study depicts how such a shift could put new strains on U.S. infrastructure, as rails and trains replace riverboats as the primary mode of agricultural transportation.
“You’re definitely going to need to expand loading and export facilities and bolster the strength of your rail lines from North Dakota west and east,” said Bruce McCarl, a regents professor with the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. “This is a 50-year expansion we’re talking about.”
The agricultural sector already places significant demand on the nation’s transportation infrastructure, making up 22 percent of all transport tonnage.
Of that total, grain holds the largest share. Yet even that could change, as evaporating temperature barriers allow corn production to expand in the rich soils of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Acre for acre, corn yields are three times as heavy as wheat.
“That means you’re moving three times the volume,” McCarl said. “That puts new demand on the infrastructure to move it.”
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