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Farmers adapt to changing Illinois weather patterns

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Farmers adapt to changing Illinois weather patterns

By Veronica Mierek, Contributing writer

The corn yields in Illinois are increasing at a rapid pace, showing a trend towards an increase of two bushels an acre per year due to changes in Illinois weather trends and temperatures, said Eric Snodgrass, atmospheric sciences professor at the University.

“We are actually getting more annual precipitation coming in the form of big rainfall events. We on average receive here in Illinois about 40 inches of rain a year; we’re starting to see that more of those 40 inches of rain are coming from big events, followed by longer dry spells,” Snodgrass said.

According to the press release, the percentage of rainfall occurring in very heavy events has increased dramatically over the past 55 years, especially in the Northeast. Illinois’ heavy rainfall has increased by 37 percent.

These heavy events are defined as being over two inches in 24 hours, Snodgrass said in the press release.

“Corn yield is certainly affected by not having enough rain or having too much rain,” he said. “So, draining that water away is very important, yet retaining some of it so the plant can stay healthy is important.”

On average, the nighttime temperature has warmed up about a degree to a degree and a half.  Snodgrass said this could pose a problem, but the changes are not yet substantial enough to really affect crop yields.

Farmers are already adapting to these changes. Snodgrass said to help mitigate the effects of increased heavy rainfall, they use a technique known as field tiling, which utilizes a corrugated plastic under the fields to let the excess water drain out of the soil. However, not all of the changes might be harmful towards crops.

“Changes in temperature are actually very beneficial. We used to not plant the crop in Illinois until May, or the middle of May. Now we can plant our crops in the middle of April, end of April,” Snodgrass said. “And the earlier we plant them, the bigger and better, the higher the yields are.”

These changing weather trends are not expected to affect non-farmers too much since most of us live very climate-controlled lives, he said.

“Our wealth and infrastructure in the United States, as well as Illinois being a landlocked state, eliminate many threats that climate change brings,” Snodgrass said. “We likely won’t come across the consequences of sea level rise or landfalling hurricanes.”

“[Non-farmers] are not really going to see or feel the effects of climate change here in the Midwest. Just, we’re not getting the effects that they get out in California, or in Florida, or in other places around the world where the effects are much, much, much bigger,” he said.

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