Site-specific field management adaptation is key to feeding the world in the 21st century

Dong Kook Woo, William J. Riley, Robert F. Grant, Yuxin Wu


Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Program Acknowledged Support: Yes, Regional and Global Modeling Analysis Program


Rapid climate change and growing population threaten global food security across the globe. Several studies have proposed early planting, increased irrigation, and increased fertilizer applications as climate adaptation strategies, yet none have considered combined and site-specific field management strategies as a comprehensive solution. Here, we analyzed non-irrigated wheat yield responses to climate change and field management adaptation using a mechanistic crop model evaluated against observed global non-irrigated wheat-yield over 3-year intervals spanning 13 years at 3749 sites (RMSE  36 gC m−2). Early planting with later-maturing varieties provided the most benefit to future yields among the proposed field management adaptation strategies. Improved water use efficiency from increased CO led to relatively low benefits of additional irrigation. We estimated that spatially heterogeneous adaption strategies had the potential to improve global wheat yields by 91% by 2100 compared to the present day. The yield improvements from combined field adaptation strategies were larger than the sum of improvements from the individual strategies. These synergistic benefits were shown to result from complementary processes regulating nutrient and water uptake, physiological tolerance to heat stress, and internal carbon and nutrient cycling.

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