Crop futures

Gardner, A.S., Maclean, I.M.D., Gaston, K.J. & Bütikofer, L. 2021. Forecasting future crop suitability with microclimate data. Agricultural Systems 190, 103084.

Context: Against a background of unprecedented climate change, humanity faces the challenge of how to increase global food production without compromising the natural environment. Crop suitability models can indicate the best locations to grow different crops and, in doing so, support efficient use of land to leave space for, or share space with, nature. However, challenges in downscaling the climate data needed to drive these models to make predictions for the future has meant that they are often run using national or regional climate projections. At finer spatial scales, variation in climate conditions can have a substantial influence on yield and so the continued use of coarse resolution climate data risks maladaptive agricultural decisions. Opportunities to grow novel crops, for which knowledge of local variation in microclimate may be critical, may be missed.

Objective: We demonstrate how microclimate information can be acquired for a region and used to run a mechanistic crop suitability model under present day and possible future climate scenarios.

Methods: We use microclimate modelling techniques to generate 100 m spatial resolution climate datasets for the south-west of the UK for present day (2012-2017) and predicted future (2042-2047) time periods. We use these data to run the mechanistic crop model WOrld FOod STudies (WOFOST) for 56 crop varieties, which returns information on maximum crop yields for each planting month.

Results and conclusions: Over short distances, we find that the highest attainable yields vary substantially and discuss how these differences mean that field-level assessments of climate suitability could support land-use decisions, enabling food production whilst protecting biodiversity.

Significance: We provide code for running WOFOST in the WofostR R package, thus enabling integration with microclimate models and meaning that our methodology could be applied anywhere in the world. As such, we make available to anyone the tools to predict climate suitability for crops at high spatial resolution for both present day and possible future climate scenarios.