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Effects of climate change on US grain transport


The United States is a global grain supplier. Agriculture uses 22% of all US transported tonnage with grain being the largest component1. Crop mix shifts are an often cited consequence of climate change2,3,4 and such shifts may change the demands grain places on the transport system. Studies also find that climate change could decrease Great Lakes water levels5,6,7,8, shorten the duration of ice cover in the winter9,10,11 and alter grain supplies in grain-exporting countries12. This study investigates the effects of such phenomena on US grain transportation movements both in volumes and modes. Specifically we examine the effects of possible shifts in: crop production patterns; Great Lakes water levels; winter navigation possibilities; and foreign grain production. We find that crop mix shifts reduce the importance of Lower Mississippi River ports, but increase the role of Pacific Northwest ports, Great Lakes ports and Atlantic ports. We also find a shift from barge to rail and truck transport. Conversely, a longer navigation season or a reduction in Great Lake water levels increases grain shipments to the ports in the Lower Mississippi River. Higher use of Great Lakes ports occurs under a reduction of grain production in European exporting countries that compete with Great Lakes ports.

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Figure 1: Excess supply and demand for corn for the baseline and under different GCM scenarios.
Figure 2: Excess supply and demand for soybeans for the baseline and under different GCM scenarios.


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This article obtained the financial support from the University Transportation Center for Mobility, Texas Transportation Institute. We also thank all the people who have made valuable comments to this work in the 2011 NAREA & AAEA Joint Annual Meeting and 2012 Systemic Impacts of Climate on Transportation Workshop held by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, US Department of Transportation. Finally, we thank the Commission on Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Thailand, for the financial support to W.A.

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W.A. collected the data set, developed the modified model of ref. 19 and the IGTM, and carried out the estimations and analyses for the entire paper. B.A.M. provided the conceptual ideas, analyses and recommendations for the entire paper. Z.A collected the data set for the IGTM. S.W.F. provided the conceptual ideas, analyses and recommendations in the IGTM. D.V.V. provided the conceptual ideas. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Witsanu Attavanich.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Attavanich, W., McCarl, B., Ahmedov, Z. et al. Effects of climate change on US grain transport. Nature Clim Change 3, 638–643 (2013).

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