Research ArticleECONOMICS

Growing climatic sensitivity of U.S. agriculture linked to technological change and regional specialization

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Science Advances  12 Dec 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 12, eaat4343
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4343


A pressing question for climate change adaptation is whether ongoing transformations of the agricultural sector affect its ability to cope with climatic variations. We examine this question in the United States, where major increases in productivity have fueled most of agricultural production growth over the past half-century. To quantify the evolving climate sensitivity of the sector and identify its sources, we combine state-level measures of agricultural productivity with detailed climate data for 1960–2004. We find that agriculture is growing more sensitive to climate in Midwestern states for two distinct but compounding reasons: a rising climatic sensitivity of nonirrigated cereal and oilseed crops and a growing specialization in crop production. In contrast, other regions specialize in less climate-sensitive production such as irrigated specialty crops or livestock. Results suggest that reducing vulnerability to climate change should consider the role of policies in inducing regional specialization.

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