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Crop Yields Seen Damaged by Climate Change Earlier Than Thought

By Rudy Ruitenberg (BusinessWeek) - March 17, 2014

Corn, wheat and rice yields will start to suffer from climate change in 2030, according to a study led by the U.K.’s University of Leeds based on climate models and research on crop productivity.

“Crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected,” Andy Challinor, a Leeds professor and lead author of the study, was cited as saying in a statement on the university’s website.

Without adaptation by farmers, losses in aggregate production of wheat, rice and corn are predicted with local climate warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Yield losses are forecast to be greater in the second half of the century than the first half, and stronger in tropical regions than moderate ones, based on the study. The researchers performed a meta-analysis, which evaluates data from previous studies, of more than 1,700 assessments of how climate change will affect rice, corn and wheat yields.

The impact will be greatest in the second half of the 21st century, with yield declines in excess of 25 percent predicted to become more common, according to the study. Even “moderate” warming may affect yields in some temperate-climate locations, the researchers said.

“Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years,” Challinor said. “The overall picture remains negative, and we are now starting to see how research can support adaptation by avoiding the worst impacts.”