Understanding the weather signal in national crop-yield variability

Katja Frieler, Bernard Schauberger, Almut Arneth, Juraj Balkovic, James Chryssanthacopoulos, Delphine Deryng, Joshua Elliott, Christian Folberth, Nikolay Khabarov, Christoph Müller, Stefan Olin, Thomas Pugh, Sibyll Schaphoff, Jacob Schewe, Erwin Schmid, Lila Warszawski, Anders Levermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
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Year-to-year variations in crop yields can have major impacts on the livelihoods of subsistence farmers and may trigger significant global price fluctuations, with severe consequences for people in developing countries. Fluctuations can be induced by weather conditions, management decisions, weeds, diseases, and pests. Although an explicit quantification and deeper understanding of weather-induced crop-yield variability is essential for adaptation strategies, so far it has only been addressed by empirical models. Here, we provide conservative estimates of the fraction of reported national yield variabilities that can be attributed to weather by state-of-the-art, process-based crop model simulations. We find that observed weather variations can explain more than 50% of the variability in wheat yields in Australia, Canada, Spain, Hungary, and Romania. For maize, weather sensitivities exceed 50% in seven countries, including the United States. The explained variance exceeds 50% for rice in Japan and South Korea and for soy in Argentina. Avoiding water stress by simulating yields assuming full irrigation shows that water limitation is a major driver of the observed variations in most of these countries. Identifying the mechanisms leading to crop-yield fluctuations is not only fundamental for dampening fluctuations, but is also important in the context of the debate on the attribution of loss and damage to climate change. Since process-based crop models not only account for weather influences on crop yields, but also provide options to represent human-management measures, they could become essential tools for differentiating these drivers, and for exploring options to reduce future yield fluctuations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-616
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number6
Early online date17 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2017


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