Ariel Ortiz-Bobea explores links between weather and agricultural productivity

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea explores links between weather and agricultural productivity


ARIEL ORTIZ-BOBEA:
United States agriculture is one of the most
productive in the world. Since the 1950s,
agricultural productivity has more than doubled. At the same time, agriculture
remains inherently dependent on climate. Our research team
wanted to know whether the massive transformation of
the sector over the past half century have also made it more
resilient to climatic shocks. With a changing climate,
this is a critical question, not only for the US,
but for other nations around the world who look up
to agricultural development in the US as a blueprint
for their own future. We linked detailed
weather information with agricultural productivity
for each of the lower 48 states to quantify the relationship
between productivity and weather. That includes both crop
production and animal production. We found a clear connection
between productivity and temperature. Exposure to hot
summers are associated with lower productivity
in most parts of the US. One of our key findings
is that the relationship has changed over
time, particularly in Midwestern states. Prior to the 1980s, a
2-degrees-Celsius-warmer summer was associated with a drop
in productivity of about 10%. Since then, the same
environmental conditions are associated with a
30% drop in productivity. We wondered why
this was happening. So we dug deeper to see whether
animal production or crop production was
driving this pattern. We found two distinct
but compounding sources. First, we found
that these patterns seem more closely linked to
changes in how we produce crops than to changes in how
we produce animals. Second, the Midwest
has become more specialized in crop production
as opposed to animal production. Our work reveals a trade-off
between higher productivity and higher sensitivity to
climate in US agriculture. We don’t take a position
on whether this trade off is undesirable, but it
is important to realize we are making this trade-off,
and we encourage policymakers to consider these patterns
as they address how we can adapt to climate change.

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