Climate-Driven Crop Yield and Yield Variability and Climate Change Impacts on the U.S. Great Plains Agricultural Production

By Meetpal S. Kukal & Suat Irmak

Climate variability and trends affect global crop yields and are characterized as highly dependent on location, crop type, and irrigation. U.S. Great Plains, due to its significance in national food production, evident climate variability, and extensive irrigation is an ideal region of investigation for climate impacts on food production. This paper evaluates climate impacts on maize, sorghum, and soybean yields and effect of irrigation for individual counties in this region by employing extensive crop yield and climate datasets from 1968–2013. Variability in crop yields was a quarter of the regional average yields, with a quarter of this variability explained by climate variability, and temperature and precipitation explained these in singularity or combination at different locations. Observed temperature trend was beneficial for maize yields, but detrimental for sorghum and soybean yields, whereas observed precipitation trend was beneficial for all three crops. Irrigated yields demonstrated increased robustness and an effective mitigation strategy against climate impacts than their non-irrigated counterparts by a considerable fraction. The information, data, and maps provided can serve as an assessment guide for planners, managers, and policy- and decision makers to prioritize agricultural resilience efforts and resource allocation or re-allocation in the regions that exhibit risk from climate variability.