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Key role of planted and harvested area fluctuations in US crop production shocks


Food production stability against climate variability and extremes is crucial for food security and is influenced by variations in planted area, harvested area and yield. Yet research has focused on yield responses to climate fluctuations, ignoring how planted area and harvestable fraction (that is, the ratio of planted area to harvested area) affect production stability. Here we apply a time series shock detection approach to county-level data (1978–2020) on seven crops in the United States, finding that shocks (that is, sudden statistically significant declines) in planted area and harvestable fraction co-occur with 51–81% of production shocks, depending on the crop. Decomposing production shock magnitudes, we find that yield fluctuations contribute more for corn (59%), cotton (49%), soybean (64%) and winter wheat (40%), whereas planted area and harvestable fraction have a greater role for others. Additionally, climatic variables explain considerable portions of the variance in planted area (22–30%), harvestable fraction (15–28%) and yield (32–50%). These findings demonstrate that crop production shocks are often associated with fluctuations in planted area and harvestable fraction. This highlights the (largely ignored) importance of producer decision-making about cropping patterns in stabilizing food production against climate variability and emphasizes the need to consider all three production components to improve food system stability.

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Fig. 1: Production shock frequency and hotspot maps for study crops.
Fig. 2: Proportion of production shocks co-occurring with different component shocks.
Fig. 3: Annual contribution from planted area, harvestable fraction and yield to shock-related production losses.
Fig. 4: Explained variance from random forest regressions.

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Data availability

All raw data are publicly available online. County-level harvested fraction, planted area, yield and production data for the US are available at Climatic data from the PRISM database are available at GP data are available at

Code availability

The R code for shock detection was derived from Gephart et al.29 ( The R code for the decomposition and the Python code for the random forest analysis are available at


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This study was supported in part by the Gerard J. Mangone Climate Change Science & Policy Hub at the University of Delaware. K.F.D. acknowledges support from a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant no. 2022-67019-37180 and University of Delaware General University Research Fund.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.W. and K.F.D. conceptualized the study. D.W., J.A.G., T.I., N.R. and K.F.D. devised the methodology. D.W. validated and visualized the data. D.W. and K.F.D. wrote the original manuscript draft. D.W., J.A.G., T.I., N.R. and K.F.D. reviewed and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Dongyang Wei.

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Wei, D., Gephart, J.A., Iizumi, T. et al. Key role of planted and harvested area fluctuations in US crop production shocks. Nat Sustain 6, 1177–1185 (2023).

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