Risky Business Project releases Midwest climate change report 

Research details the potential risks for a region vital to U.S. agricultural production 

By Carl Peterson June 10, 2014

The Midwest region of the U.S. and its industries face increasing risks associated with climate change, according to a new report released Jan. 23 by the Risky Business Project.

For Midwestern agriculture, which contributes significantly to the regional economy and the world’s food supply, these risks will vary dramatically by state, country and crop. Without significant adaptation by the Midwest’s farmers, agriculture could suffer yield losses and other economic damages as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change. Growing areas for major commodities could also shift noticeably.

“Heat in the Heartland” is the first of several region-specific reports that Risky Business is producing as follow-ups to its June 2014 report, which used a classic risk-assessment analysis to evaluate possible impacts of climate change on the U.S. economy. Risky Business is co-chaired by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Cargill Executive Chairman Greg Page is a member of the project’s risk committee.

“A changing climate will present new risks and new opportunities as we face the complex task of producing enough food, feed and fuel for a world on its way to 9 billion people,” Page said. “Given the importance of the Midwestern United States to the world’s agricultural production, it would be irresponsible to dismiss these projections lightly.”

Impacts both positive and negative

The Midwest currently accounts for about 65 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S., and also is an important producer of wheat, pork, poultry and other commodities.

Analysis in the “Heat in the Heartland” report indicates that the Midwest’s southernmost states will face the greatest risks, with some counties in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana likely seeing average losses in commodity crops of 18 to 24 percent over the next five to 25 years if no adaptation occurs. Extreme heat will be the primary cause.

On the other hand, the report also found that warmer winters may extend growing seasons in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, which would allow farmers in those areas to increase yields through practices like double-cropping.

“Climate change poses a tremendous threat to the key sectors of the Midwest economy, particularly manufacturing and agriculture. Our business leaders, our cities, and our investment community need to focus on these risks and act now before it’s too late,” said Paulsen.

Resilience rooted in innovation

Despite the potential dangers, the report also found that the region can still avoid the most severe risks through investments in resilience and immediate action to mitigate climate change.

Cargill, which for 150 years has worked with farmers around the globe, said it is optimistic that the world can produce enough food for a growing population and maintain resilience in the face of localized disruptions from a changing climate.

“Our optimism is rooted in the ingenuity of the world’s farmers, who are consummate innovators,” Page said. “They consistently adapt to changes in everything from commodity prices and crop production techniques to credit markets and the weather. We need to make sure we provide them with the tools they need to continue to do so.”

Later on Jan. 23, Page and Paulsen will hold a panel discussion in front of business and community leaders in Minneapolis to talk about the report’s conclusions, at an event sponsored by the Economic Club of Minnesota.