Great Lakes Illinois Agriculture

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Climate Change in Illinois
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Climate Change Impacts:

Agriculture is a major component of Illinois' economy. Illinois agriculture ranks first nationwide in soybean production, second in corn, and fourth in hogs, and also ranks within the top ten states for winter wheat, oats, and grain sorghum. Over 1.5 million Illinoisans workers in the food and fiber industry and 75% of the state's land is developed for agriculture.

There are likely to be some positive impacts for agriculture resulting from a warmer climate, although current evidence suggests that the negative consequences could outweigh the positive. As an example of this mixed bag, current projections suggest that climate change may bring moderate increases in corn yield in some northern areas but significant decreases in southern and western Illinois. Among the potential impacts of climate change with implications for agriculture in Illinois are:

  • Changes in Crop Yield
    Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as a longer growing season, could boost yields of some crops, such as soybeans and wheat. However, higher ozone concentrations can damage soybeans and horticulture crops, countering positive impacts of a warmer climate. In addition, severe storms and floods during the planting and harvest seasons could decrease crop productivity. Hotter and drier summers, and potentially more droughts, would hurt crops and may require irrigation of previously rain-fed crops. This would increase the cost for farmers as well as increase the pressures on water resources.

  • An Increase in Soil Erosion and Runoff
    An increase in the frequency of floods would likely lead to greater soil erosion and runoff. Such an increase could raise the cost to farmers to maintain soil fertility as well as contribute to off-site costs, including nutrient overloads and pollution to local water ways.

  • More Favorable Conditions for Some Pests
    European Corn BorerWarmer winters with longer freeze-free periods, shifts in rainfall, and extended growing seasons may create more favorable conditions for pests. More southerly pests, such as corn earworms, may expand northward. Such a shift already appears to be happening with bean leaf beetles, which feed on soybeans and serve as vectors for a virus that causes disease in soybeans. Warming will increase the rate of insect development and the number of generations that can be completed each year, contributing to a build-up of pest populations, such as the European corn borer. Increased pests may drive farmers to use more pesticides or related chemicals, placing an additional burden on water quality.

  • A Decrease in Livestock Productivity
    High temperatures suppress appetite and decrease weight gain in livestock, while warmer winters and less snow cover are projected to reduce the quantity and quality of spring forage, overall decreasing milk quality. In addition, any extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, and blizzards, have severe effects on livestock health, although intensively managed livestock operations are better able to buffer the effects of extreme events.

  • An Increase in Risk for Small Farms
    Climate variability will likely pose greater risk for smaller farms and thus may reinforce the trend toward increasing farm size and industrialization of agriculture in the region. These changes will affect local farming communities, and, in turn, change the character of rural landscapes across the state.

Photo Credits:
Blue Gill -- Doug Stamm
European Corn Borer -- University of Georgia Archives, The University of Georgia and
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