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Climatic limit for agriculture in Brazil

Abstract

Brazil’s leadership in soybean and maize production depends on predictable rainfall in the Amazon-Cerrado agricultural frontier. Here we assess whether agricultural expansion and intensification in the region are approaching a climatic limit to rainfed production. We show that yields decline in years with unusually low rainfall or high aridity during the early stages of crop development—a pattern observed in rainfed and irrigated areas alike. Although agricultural expansion and intensification have increased over time, dry–hot weather during drought events has slowed their rate of growth. Recent regional warming and drying already have pushed 28% of current agricultural lands out of their optimum climate space. We project that 51% of the region’s agriculture will move out of that climate space by 2030 and 74% by 2060. Although agronomic adaptation strategies may relieve some of these impacts, maintaining native vegetation is a critical part of the solution for stabilizing the regional climate.

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Fig. 1: The historical distribution of agricultural fields and climate variables in the ACR.
Fig. 2: Soybean and maize yields for Mato Grosso and the Cerrado under normal and dry conditions and under rainfed and irrigated management.
Fig. 3: Land-use transition within the study area.
Fig. 4: Mean climate space of the ACR over four decades.
Fig. 5: Projected changes in climate space associated with two RCPs of the IPCC.

Data availability

All the raw climate datasets analysed in this study are available in the Google Earth Engine repository56. Raw land-use transition data that support the findings of this section are from published sources8,21. These data were used under license for the current study and are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request and with permission of S.A.S. (sspera@richmond.edu).

Code availability

Processed and extracted variables used directly in the analyses are available at GitHub (https://github.com/ludmilarattis/effect-of-climate-on--agriculture/tree/Agriculture_Climate). The scripts and datasets used to analyse the effects of climate on agricultural production, land-use transitions and climate space are also available on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5363671.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported through funding from the NSF INFEWS/T1 (#1739724), CNPq/ANA (#446412/2015-5), MCTIC/CNPq – NEXUS 19/2017 (#441463/2017-7) and CNPq/PELD (#441703/2016-0). We thank B. Rebelatto, A. Ribeiro, N. Muller and S. Davis for discussions and P. Lefebvre and C. Churchill for advice in mapping techniques. We also acknowledge that the study area encompasses the traditional land of Indigenous people of more than 80 different ethnicities.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

L.R., P.M.B., M.N.M. and M.T.C. conceived of the presented ideas and wrote the manuscript; S.A.S. investigated the land-use transition patterns and helped to revise the findings of this work. L.R. performed the analytic calculations with support from A.D.A.C., N.Q.C., E.Q.M. and D.V.S. All authors contributed in the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ludmila Rattis.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Marcelo Galdos, Guiling Wang, Anita Wreford and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Location of the study area relative to Brazilian biomes.

The study region location relative to the Legal Amazon and Cerrado biome. Approximately 68% of the study region falls within the Legal Amazon. The region spans the Cerrado (67.2%), Amazon (~27%) (the Legal Amazon and the Cerrado biome have a 761 km2 overlap), Pantanal (3.2%), Caatinga (1.7%), and Atlantic Forest (1.3%) biomes.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Predicting crop yields as a function of monthly weather conditions.

Soybean and maize second crop yields as a function of precipitation and vapor pressure deficit at early stages of development. We predicted soybean (A B) and maize second crop yields as a function of VPD and precipitation in Mato Grosso (A and C) and Cerrado (B and D). The effects of monthly weather were tested in drought (on the left of each panel) and in non-drought (on the right of each panel) conditions.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Edaphoclimatic conditions in areas where the agriculture has either intensified and de-intensified.

Edaphoclimatic conditions in areas where the agriculture has either intensified and de-intensified. Precipitation (A), VPD (B) and Sand Content (c) of the growing season. In red, double-cropping to fallowing; in brown, double- to single-cropping and in orange,from signle- to double-cropping. Only transitions with a consistency of two years were considered. We have tested if the groups presented differences among their means using Kruskal-Wallis test and present it for each year.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Predicting double-cropping occurrence as a function of monthly weather conditions.

Predicted values of changes in double-cropping occurrence as a function of A) the observed precipitation and VPD, B) using year as a random term in the agricultural plots from 2002 to 2016. For each 100 mm decrease in the total precipitation the chances of double-cropping decreased by 2%. For each 1 KPa increase in VPD, the chances of double cropping decreased by 30%.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Climate envelope for the Amazon Cerrado region according to RCP 4.5 W/m.

The climate envelope for the last 50 years in the Amazon Cerrado Region based on past observed data: 1970–1979 (solid line in black); 2000:2009 (solid line in pink); and on future modeled data (CMIP5—RCP 4.5 W m2): 2020–2029 (dotted line in salmon) and 2060–2069 (dotted line in purple). Each pixel on the maps (on the left) correspond to one point in the scatterplot (on the right). The colors on map are the same as the point falls on the background of the scatter plot. The convex hulls delimit the climate conditions in the represented decade.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Magnitude of change of climatic conditions of each agricultural plot in the Amazon Cerrado Region.

Quantifying the magnitude of change of climatic conditions of each agricultural plot in the Amazon Cerrado Region. Panels A, C and E show the distribution of distance in mm each agricultural plot had changed from 1970 to 2010 (A), from 1970 to 2030 (C) and from 1970 to 2060 (E). The direction of those changes are shown in panels B (1970–2010), D (1970–2030) and F (1970–2060). All agricultural plots became warmer. In yellow those moving to warmer and wetter conditions. In red those moving towards warmer and drier conditions. one point in the scatterplot (on the right).

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary information on study region, Description of agriculture expansion into extreme conditions, Tables 1–5, Figs. 1–4 and Discussion.

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Rattis, L., Brando, P.M., Macedo, M.N. et al. Climatic limit for agriculture in Brazil. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 1098–1104 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01214-3

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