BY MICHAEL J. ROBERTS AND WOLFRAM SCHLENKER
The United States produces 41% of the world’s corn and 38% of the world’s soybeans. These crops comprise two of the four largest sources of caloric energy produced and are thus critical for world food supply. We pair a panel of county-level yields for these two crops plus cotton (a warmer-weather crop) with a new fine-scale weather data set that incorporates the whole distribution of temperatures within each day and across all days in the growing season. We find yields increase with temperature until about 29±C for corn, 30±C for soybeans, and 32±C for cotton, but temperatures above these thresholds are very harmful. The slope of the decline above the optimum is significantly steeper than the incline below it. The same nonlinear and asymmetric relationship is found when we isolate either time-series or cross-sectional variations in temperatures and yields. This suggests limited historical adaptation of seed varieties or management practices to warmer temperatures because the cross-section includes farmers’ adaptations to warmer climates and the time-series does not. Holding current growing regions fixed, area-weighted average yields are predicted to decrease by 30-46% before the end of the century under the slowest (B1) warming scenario and decrease by 63-82% under the most rapid warming scenario (A1FI) under the Hadley III model.
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