An assessment of irrigation needs and crop yield for the United States under potential climate changes
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Past assessments of climate change on U.S. agriculture have mostly focused on changes in crop yield. Few studies have included the entire conterminous United States, and few studies have assessed changing irrigation requirements. None have included the effects of changing soil moisture characteristics as determined by changing climatic forcing. This study assesses changes in irrigation requirements and crop yields for five crops in the areas of the United States where they have traditionally been grown. Physiologically based crop models are used to incorporate inputs of climate, soils, agricultural management, and drought stress tolerance. Soil moisture values from a macroscale hydrologic model run under a future climate scenario are used to initialize soil moisture content at the beginning of each growing season. Historical crop yield data are used to calibrate model parameters and to determine locally acceptable drought stress as a management parameter. Changes in irrigation demand and crop yield are assessed for both means and extremes by comparing results for atmospheric forcing close to the present climate with those for a future climate scenario. Assessments using the Canadian Center for Climate Modeling and Analysis General Circulation Model (CGCM1) indicate greater irrigation demands in the southern United States and decreased irrigation demands in the northern and western United States. Crop yields typically increase, except for winter wheat in the southern United States and corn. Variability in both irrigation demands and crop yields increases in most cases. Assessment results for the CGCM1 climate scenario are compared to those for the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research GCM (HadCM2) scenario for southwestern Georgia. The comparison shows significant differences in irrigation and yield trends, both in magnitude and in direction. The differences reflect the high forecast uncertainty of current GCMs. Nonetheless, both GCMs indicate higher variability in future climatic forcing and, consequently, in the response of agricultural systems. Copyright 2001 by the American Geophysical Union.