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Cropping frequency and area response to climate variability can exceed yield response

Abstract

The sensitivity of agricultural output to climate change has often been estimated by modelling crop yields under climate change scenarios or with statistical analysis of the impacts of year-to-year climatic variability on crop yields1,2. However, the area of cropland and the number of crops harvested per growing season (cropping frequency) both also affect agricultural output and both also show sensitivity to climate variability and change3,4,5,6,7,8,9. We model the change in agricultural output associated with the response of crop yield, crop frequency and crop area to year-to-year climate variability in Mato Grosso (MT), Brazil, a key agricultural region. Roughly 70% of the change in agricultural output caused by climate was determined by changes in frequency and/or changes in area. Hot and wet conditions were associated with the largest losses and cool and dry conditions with the largest gains. All frequency and area effects had the same sign as total effects, but this was not always the case for yield effects. A focus on yields alone may therefore bias assessments of the vulnerability of agriculture to climate change. Efforts to reduce climate impacts to agriculture should seek to limit production losses not only from crop yield, but also from changes in cropland area and cropping frequency.

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Figure 1: Changes in Mato Grosso agricultural output from response of crop yield, crop frequency and crop area to interannual climate variability.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge support from NASA grant no. NNX11AH91G.

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A.S.C., L.K.V. and J.F.M. designed the research; A.S.C. and L.K.V. performed the research; A.S.C., L.K.V. and S.A.S. analysed the data; A.S.C. and L.K.V. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Avery S. Cohn.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Cohn, A., VanWey, L., Spera, S. et al. Cropping frequency and area response to climate variability can exceed yield response. Nature Clim Change 6, 601–604 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2934

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