Impacts of compound hot–dry extremes on US soybean yields

Hamed, Raed; Van Loon, Anne F.; Aerts, Jeroen; Coumou, Dim

The US agriculture system supplies more than one-third of globally traded soybean, and with 90 % of US soybean produced under rainfed agriculture, soybean trade is particularly sensitive to weather and climate variability. Average growing season climate conditions can explain about one-third of US soybean yield variability. Additionally, crops can be sensitive to specific short-term weather extremes, occurring in isolation or compounding at key moments throughout crop development. Here, we identify the dominant within-season climate drivers that can explain soybean yield variability in the US, and we explore the synergistic effects between drivers that can lead to severe impacts. The study combines weather data from reanalysis and satellite-informed root zone soil moisture fields with subnational crop yields using statistical methods that account for interaction effects. On average, our models can explain about two-thirds of the year-to-year yield variability (70 % for all years and 60 % for out-of-sample predictions). The largest negative influence on soybean yields is driven by high temperature and low soil moisture during the summer crop reproductive period. Moreover, due to synergistic effects, heat is considerably more damaging to soybean crops during dry conditions and is less problematic during wet conditions. Compounding and interacting hot and dry (hot–dry) summer conditions (defined by the 95th and 5th percentiles of temperature and soil moisture respectively) reduce yields by 2 standard deviations. This sensitivity is 4 and 3 times larger than the sensitivity to hot or dry conditions alone respectively. Other relevant drivers of negative yield responses are lower temperatures early and late in the season, excessive precipitation in the early season, and dry conditions in the late season. We note that the sensitivity to the identified drivers varies across the spatial domain. Higher latitudes, and thus colder regions, are positively affected by high temperatures during the summer period. On the other hand, warmer southeastern regions are positively affected by low temperatures during the late season. Historic trends in identified drivers indicate that US soybean production has generally benefited from recent shifts in weather except for increasing rainfall in the early season. Overall, warming conditions have reduced the risk of frost in the early and late seasons and have potentially allowed for earlier sowing dates. More importantly, summers have been getting cooler and wetter over the eastern US. Nevertheless, despite these positive changes, we show that the frequency of compound hot–dry summer events has remained unchanged over the 1946–2016 period. In the longer term, climate models project substantially warmer summers for the continental US, although uncertainty remains as to whether this will be accompanied by drier conditions. This highlights a critical element to explore in future studies focused on US agricultural production risk under climate change.

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Hamed, Raed / Van Loon, Anne F. / Aerts, Jeroen / et al: Impacts of compound hot–dry extremes on US soybean yields. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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