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Impacts of ozone and climate change on yields of perennial crops in California

Abstract

Changes in temperature and air pollution affect agricultural productivity, but most relevant research has focused on major annual crops (for example, wheat, maize, soy and rice). In contrast, relatively little is known about the effects of climate change and air quality on perennial crops such as fruits and nuts, which are important to dietary diversity and nutrition, and represent ~38% of California’s agriculture by economic value. Moreover, the adaptive capacity of perennial crops may be limited by their long lifespans and sometimes large establishment costs. Here, on the basis of statistical modelling of historical data and downscaled climate model projections, we jointly assess the impacts of climate and ozone levels on historical and future yields of perennial crops in California. Although the effects of warming to date are not statistically significant for many perennial crops, the yields of most perennials show a significant negative response to ambient ozone, ranging from −2% for strawberries to −22% for table grapes, implying total losses of roughly US$1 billion per year. This suggests that historical improvements in California’s air quality that reduced ozone exposures may have had large, unaccounted co-benefits for the state’s perennial crop yields, and further pollution reduction could create additional gains. Indeed, the co-location of regions with high production and high ozone damage indicates that opportunities to improve crop yields through pollution mitigation are large.

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Fig. 1: Yield response of the 20 most valuable perennial crops to ambient ozone and a uniform 2 °C warming.
Fig. 2: Historical yield changes for selected perennial crops during 1980–2015.
Fig. 3: Projected percentage change in yields of selected crops by region 2005−2050.

Data availability

All historical data used are publicly available and open access, with the data sources listed in the Methods. The other data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The LASSO regression was conducted by using the lars 1.2 package in R, which is available at https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=lars.

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Acknowledgements

C.H., Y.Q., A.A., J.A.B., F.C.M. and S.J.D. were supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture (INFEWS grant EAR 1639318); D.T. was supported by NASA’s IDS programme (80NSSC17K0416). We acknowledge helpful discussions with D. B. Lobell. WRF/Chem outputs were generated under the US NSF EASM Program (AGS-1049200). WRF/Chem simulations were performed and processed under high-performance computing support from Yellowstone (ark:/85065/d7wd3xhc; https://www2.cisl.ucar.edu/supercomputer/yellowstone) provided by NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, sponsored by the NSF, and the national supercomputer TACC/NSF STAMPEDE2, provided as an Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment digital service by the Texas Advanced Computing Center (http://www.tacc.utexas.edu), which is supported by NSF grant number aci-1053575.

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S.J.D., N.D.M. and C.H. designed the study. C.H. performed the analyses, with support from Y.Z. on datasets and S.J.D., N.D.M., J.A.B., A.A., F.C.M., Y.Q. and D.T. on analytical approaches. C.H. and S.J.D. led the writing with input from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Chaopeng Hong.

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Supplementary notes, references, Figs. 1–15 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Hong, C., Mueller, N.D., Burney, J.A. et al. Impacts of ozone and climate change on yields of perennial crops in California. Nat Food 1, 166–172 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0043-8

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