Vulnerability of grain crops and croplands in the Midwest to climatic variability and adaptation strategies

J. L. Hatfield, Lois Wright-Morton, Beth Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maize (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) are the dominant grain crops across the Midwest and are grown on 75% of the arable land with small but economically important crops of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and oats (Avena sativa L.) but economically important crops. Historically, there have been variations in annual yields for maize and soybean related to the seasonal weather patterns. Key concerns are the impacts of future climate change on maize and soybean production and their vulnerability to future climate changes. To evaluate these, we analyzed the yield gaps as the difference between the attainable and actual yield at the county level and observed meteorological data to determine which seasonal meteorological variables were dominant in quantifying the actual/attainable yields. July maximum temperatures, August minimum temperatures, and July–August total precipitation were found to be the significant factors affecting the yield gap. These relationships were used to estimate the change in the yield gap through 2100 using both the RCP 4.5 and 8.5 climate scenarios for these variables for selected counties across the Midwest. Yield gaps increased with time for maize across the Midwest with the largest increases in the southern portion of the Corn Belt showing a large north-south gradient in the increase of the yield gap and minimal east-west gradient. Soybean was not as sensitive as maize because the projected temperatures do not exceed optimum temperature ranges for growth and reductions in production that are more sensitive to precipitation changes during the reproductive stages. Adaptation strategies for maize and soybean will require more innovation than simple agronomic management and require the linkage between geneticists, agronomists, and agricultural meteorologists to develop innovative strategies to preserve production in the Midwest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-275
Number of pages13
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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