Research ArticleAGRICULTURE

Spatial variations in crop growing seasons pivotal to reproduce global fluctuations in maize and wheat yields

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Science Advances  21 Nov 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 11, eaat4517
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4517


Testing our understanding of crop yield responses to weather fluctuations at global scale is notoriously hampered by limited information about underlying management conditions, such as cultivar selection or fertilizer application. Here, we demonstrate that accounting for observed spatial variations in growing seasons increases the variance in reported national maize and wheat yield anomalies that can be explained by process-based model simulations from 34 to 58% and 47 to 54% across the 10 most weather-sensitive main producers, respectively. For maize, the increase in explanatory power is similar to the increase achieved by accounting for water stress, as compared to simulations assuming perfect water supply in both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. Representing water availability constraints in irrigation is of second-order importance. We improve the model’s explanatory power by better representing crops’ exposure to observed weather conditions, without modifying the weather response itself. This growing season adjustment now allows for a close reproduction of heat wave and drought impacts on crop yields.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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