May 03, 2019 10:13 AM EDT
The collaboration of researchers from Germany, Australia, and the US have quantified the effect of climate extremes like droughts and heatwaves on the yield variability of staple crops around the world. According to a study published in Environmental Research Letters, generally, year-to-year changes in climate factors during the growing season of maize, rice, soy, and sprint wheat accounted for 2- percent to 49 percent of yield fluctuations.
Climate extremes including hot and cold temperature extremes, drought, and heavy precipitation accounted for 18 percent to 43 percent of these interannual variations in crop yield.
The team of researchers utilized a global agricultural database at high spatial resolution and near-global coverage climate and climate extremes datasets to get to the bottom of the impacts of climate extremes on agricultural yields. Also, the researchers applied a machine-learning algorithm, Random Forests, to tease out which climate factors played an essential role in influencing crop yields.
Dr. Elizabeth Vogel, the lead author of the study from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes and Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne, said that they discovered that the most essential climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect with the average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields.
For climate extremes notably, the researchers identified North America for soy and spring wheat production, Europe for spring wheat and Asia for rice and maize production as hotspots.
As the researchers pointed out, however, global markets are not the only concern. Outside of these major regions, in regions where communities are highly dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, the failure of these staple crops can be devastating.
Vogel explained further that in their study, they discovered that maize yields in Africa showed one of the most productive relationships with growing season climate variability. It was indeed the second highest explained variance for crop yields of any crop/continent combination, suggesting that it is highly dependent on climate conditions.
Though Africa's share of global maize production may be small, the most significant part of that production goes to human consumption, compared to merely 3 percent in North America, making it crucial for food security in the region.
In conclusion, Vogel added that increasing the resilience to climate extremes requires a solid effort at local, regional, and international levels to reduce negative impacts for farmers and communities depending on agriculture for their living.
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