Gauging the impact of climate change on US agriculture

Water stands between the raised beds of corn verification plot.
Photo: Kevin Lawson/University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Gauging the impact of climate change on US agriculture

New approach tracks key factors affecting crop yields, enabling early adaptation.

To assess the likely impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture, researchers typically run a combination of climate and crop models that project how yields of maize, wheat, and other key crops will change over time. But the suite of models commonly used in these simulations, which account for a wide range of uncertainty, produces outcomes that can range from substantial crop losses to bountiful harvests. These mixed results often leave farmers and other agricultural stakeholders perplexed as to how best to adapt to climate change.

Now, in a study published in Environmental Research Letters, a research team at MIT and the University of California at Davis, has devised a way to provide these stakeholders with the additional information they need to make more informed decisions. In a nutshell, the researchers complement the results of climate/crop model runs with projections of five useful indices of agriculture/climate interaction—dry days, plant heat stress, frost days, growing season length and start of field operations—that clarify what's driving projected yields up or down.

"It's very difficult to investigate the impact of the climate on agriculture because models don't agree even on the sign of projected yield, or indicate the mechanism behind it," says the study's lead author, Erwan Monier, a principal research scientist with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. "Our work provides an alternative way to look at the fate of agriculture under climate change that provides information that's more relevant to farmers than existing climate/crop models." [...]

Source: MIT News