Increasing drought and extreme rainfall are major threats to maize production in the United States. However, compared to drought impact, the impact of excessive rainfall on crop yield remains unresolved. Here, we present observational evidence from crop yield and insurance data that excessive rainfall can reduce maize yield up to −34% (−17 ± 3% on average) in the United States relative to the expected yield from the long-term trend, comparable to the up to −37% loss by extreme drought (−32 ± 2% on average) from 1981 to 2016. Drought consistently decreases maize yield due to water deficiency and concurrent heat, with greater yield loss for rainfed maize in wetter areas. Excessive rainfall can have either negative or positive impact on crop yield, and its sign varies regionally. Excessive rainfall decreases maize yield significantly in cooler areas in conjunction with poorly drained soils, and such yield loss gets exacerbated under the condition of high preseason soil water storage. Current process-based crop models cannot capture the yield loss from excessive rainfall and overestimate yield under wet conditions. Our results highlight the need for improved understanding and modeling of the excessive rainfall impact on crop yield.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2325-2337
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • crop model
  • drought
  • extreme climate
  • extreme rainfall
  • maize production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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