For the first time, an empirical study has considered the response of crop yield, cropping area and crop frequency to climate variability. Previously this has been considered by modelling crop yields under climate change scenarios or with statistical analysis of the impacts of year-to-year climate variability on crop yields.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change titled ‘[c]ropping frequency and area response to climate variability can exceed yield response’, Cohn et al argued that the traditional approach did not take into account economic and social impacts of the changing climate, such as reducing the land farmed. Therefore, when considering the overall loss of production in any given area, there may be a bias to crop yield as opposed to considering how much land was farmed and the number of crops harvested per growing season.
To show this they analysed the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which in 2013 produced 10% of global soybeans on 10 million hectares of cropland. The study found that temperature increases of 1 degree Celsius saw roughly 70% of the change in agricultural output was caused by reduced double cropping and the area farmed. Only 30% was attributable to crop yield.
The situation in Mato Grosso can be juxtaposed to Australia as that area is characterized by weak land title rights, poor insurance for farmers and poor governance. However, that should not detract from the key findings that focussing on the response of crop yield to climate variability appears to be inaccurate. The authors suggest that this study should be replicated in the U.S to see if increased subsidies or insurance would help protect against changing climate.
If other regions across the tropics that are projected to become important centres of agricultural production show the same responses as Mato Grosso, this may present an opportunity for Australian farmers to capture market share of those areas.
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