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Focus on Croplands

Croplands and Climate in the Midwest


Crops of the Midwest

Although the perception is that the Midwest is corn and soybean production, there are a wide variety of crops produced across the Midwest.  There are over 127 million acres of agricultural land in the Midwest and in addition to 75% of that area in corn and soybeans, the other 25% is used to produce alfalfa, apples, asparagus, green beans, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, sweet and tart cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, grapes, oats, onions, peaches, plums, peas, bell peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, sweet corn, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelon, and wheat. The diversity of the annual and perennial crops across the Midwest creates a range of responses to climate and weather. One of the goals of the Midwest Climate Hub is to work with each of these different commodities to determine the impacts that different conditions have on production.



Responding to Climate Change

One of the aspects being evaluated as part of this background information is the change in workable field days in the spring (April through May). There has been a trend toward fewer workable field days because of the shifting precipitation amounts to more spring occurrences. This will affect the planning operations for producers to establish their crops. Especially in specialty crops, timeliness of planting for processing schedules is an important part of the production cycle.

Midwestern agriculture is dominated by rainfed agricultural systems so that crop production is determined by the amount of rain which occurs during the growing season and is stored in the soil profile. Part of the focus on crop production is to determine how production systems can be made more water efficient by improving the soil to capture and retain more water and reduce the amount of runoff.  Assisting producers with conservation practices which can improve their water availability will reduce the variation in crop production among years and create a more climate resilient cropping system.


Additional Resources

Sustainable Corn is a USDA and National Institue of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded project that has gathered data from 35 field sites and thousands of farmers in 9 Midwestern states, with the goal of creating a suite of practices for corn-based systems that:

  • Retain and enhance soil organic matter and nutrient and carbon stocks;
  • Reduce off-field nitrogen losses that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution;
  • Better withstand droughts and floods; and
  • Ensure productivity under different climatic conditions.

Through the Extension and Education aspects of this project, we are working with farmers, teachers and students to connect them with project analyses and promote collaborative learning.


Helping producers make better long-term plans: Weather and climate patterns are a driving force behind the success or failure of Corn Belt cropping systems. Useful to Usable (U2U) is an integrated research and extension project working to improve farm resilience and profitability in the North Central U.S. by transforming existing climate data into usable products for the agricultural community. Our goal is to help producers make better long-term plans on what, when and where to plant, and also how to manage crops for maximum yields and minimum environmental damage.