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Farming moving northward due to climate change

A farm in southeast Michigan.
Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Michigan and other northern states planted a record amount of corn, wheat, and soybeans this year, and the primary reason is climate change.

"We are clearly seeing more growing degree days and a longer growing season in the state of Michigan," says Jim Byrum, President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, "which means some of those crops can be produced further north."

Byrum says farms in northern Michigan that haven't been farmed in 50 to 70 years are being put back into use, growing wheat, corn, soybeans, dry beans and potatoes. 

Some land as far north as the Upper Peninsula is being converted from hay to food crops, and grapes are being planted in northwest Michigan because it's warmer.

But that's only one side of the coin.

Climate change is causing a lot of grief for Michigan's farmers, as well.

"We're seeing more and more extreme weather, deeper, further, just like our past winter," says Byrum.  "Those kinds of things are ultimately going to affect everything we do in agriculture and frankly beyond agriculture for that matter."

Byrum says wheat farmers have had to begin using fungicides as warmer weather encourages the spread of fungi.

Many farmers are also having to install drain tile to deal with more frequent and severe flooding.

"We had parts of the state of  Michigan that had rain events of somewhere north of 5 to 6 inches of rain in less than 10 hours," says Byrum.  "So they have to try to manage that kind of extreme weather."

Byrum says it's unfortunate that climate change was initially called global warming.  He says the warming is certainly happening, but what people notice in their own lives is the extremes.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.