Overall, year-to-year changes in climate factors during the growing season of maize, rice, soy and spring wheat accounted for 20%-49% of yield fluctuations, according to research published in Environmental Research Letters.
Climate extremes, such as hot and cold temperature extremes, drought and heavy precipitation, by themselves accounted for 18%-43% of these interannual variations in crop yield.
To get to the bottom of the impacts of climate extremes on agricultural yields, the researchers used a global agricultural database at high spatial resolution, and near-global coverage climate and climate extremes datasets. They applied a machine-learning algorithm, Random Forests, to tease out which climate factors played the greatest role in influencing crop yields.
“Interestingly, we found that the most important climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect, with the average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields,” said lead author Dr. Elisabeth Vogel from the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne.
The research also revealed global hotspots – areas that produce a large proportion of the world’s crop production, yet are most susceptible to climate variability and extremes.