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Creators/Authors contains: "Mueller, Nathaniel D."

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  1. Abstract

    Over the next three decades rising population and changing dietary preferences are expected to increase food demand by 25%–75%. At the same time climate is also changing—with potentially drastic impacts on food production. Breeding new crop characteristics and adjusting management practices are critical avenues to mitigate yield loss and sustain yield stability under a changing climate. In this study, we use a mechanistic crop model (MAIZSIM) to identify high-performing trait and management combinations that maximize yield and yield stability for different agroclimate regions in the US under present and future climate conditions. We show that morphological traits such as total leaf area and phenological traits such as grain-filling start time and duration are key properties that impact yield and yield stability; different combinations of these properties can lead to multiple high-performing strategies under present-day climate conditions. We also demonstrate that high performance under present day climate does not guarantee high performance under future climate. Weakened trade-offs between canopy leaf area and reproductive start time under a warmer future climate led to shifts in high-performing strategies, allowing strategies with higher total leaf area and later grain-filling start time to better buffer yield loss and out-compete strategies with a smaller canopy leaf area and earlier reproduction. These results demonstrate that focused effort is needed to breed plant varieties to buffer yield loss under future climate conditions as these varieties may not currently exist, and showcase how information from process-based models can complement breeding efforts and targeted management to increase agriculture resilience.

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  2. Abstract

    Yield gaps, here defined as the difference between actual and attainable yields, provide a framework for assessing opportunities to increase agricultural productivity. Previous global assessments, centred on a single year, were unable to identify temporal variation. Here we provide a spatially and temporally comprehensive analysis of yield gaps for ten major crops from 1975 to 2010. Yield gaps have widened steadily over most areas for the eight annual crops and remained static for sugar cane and oil palm. We developed a three-category typology to differentiate regions of ‘steady growth’ in actual and attainable yields, ‘stalled floor’ where yield is stagnated and ‘ceiling pressure’ where yield gaps are closing. Over 60% of maize area is experiencing ‘steady growth’, in contrast to ∼12% for rice. Rice and wheat have 84% and 56% of area, respectively, experiencing ‘ceiling pressure’. We show that ‘ceiling pressure’ correlates with subsequent yield stagnation, signalling risks for multiple countries currently realizing gains from yield growth.

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  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 5, 2024
  5. Abstract The ongoing agrarian transition from smallholder farming to large-scale commercial agriculture promoted by transnational large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) often aims to increase crop yields through the expansion of irrigation. LSLAs are playing an increasingly prominent role in this transition. Yet it remains unknown whether foreign LSLAs by agribusinesses target areas based on specific hydrological conditions and whether these investments compete with the water needs of existing local users. Here we combine process-based crop and hydrological modelling, agricultural statistics, and georeferenced information on individual transnational LSLAs to evaluate emergence of water scarcity associated with LSLAs. While conditions of blue water scarcity already existed prior to land acquisitions, these deals substantially exacerbate blue water scarcity through both the adoption of water-intensive crops and the expansion of irrigated cultivation. These effects lead to new rival water uses in 105 of the 160 studied LSLAs (67% of the acquired land). Combined with our findings that investors target land with preferential access to surface and groundwater resources to support irrigation, this suggests that LSLAs often appropriate water resources to the detriment of local users. 
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  6. Abstract Global use of reactive nitrogen (N) has increased over the past century to meet growing food and biofuel demand, while contributing to substantial environmental impacts. Addressing continued N management challenges requires anticipating pathways of future N use. Several studies in the scientific literature have projected future N inputs for crop production under a business-as-usual scenario. However, it remains unclear how using yield response functions to characterize a given level of technology and management practices (TMP) will alter the projections when using a consistent dataset. In this study, to project N inputs to 2050, we developed and tested three approaches, namely ‘Same nitrogen use efficiency (NUE)’, ‘Same TMP’, and ‘Improving TMP’. We found the approach that considers diminishing returns in yield response functions (‘Same TMP’) resulted in 268 Tg N yr −1 of N inputs, which was 61 and 48 Tg N yr −1 higher than when keeping NUE at the current level with and without considering changes in crop mix, respectively. If TMP continue to evolve at the pace of past five decades, projected N inputs reduce to 204 Tg N yr −1 , a value that is still 59 Tg N yr −1 higher than the inputs in the baseline year 2006. Overall, our results suggest that assuming a constant NUE may be too optimistic in projecting N inputs, and the full range of projection assumptions need to be carefully explored when investigating future N budgets. 
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  7. Abstract

    Food security and the agricultural economy are both dependent on the temporal stability of crop yields. To this end, increasing crop diversity has been suggested as a means to stabilize agricultural yields amidst an ongoing decrease in cropping system diversity across the world. Although diversity confers stability in many natural ecosystems, in agricultural systems the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not yet well resolved across spatial scales. Here, we leveraged crop area, production, and price data from 1981 to 2020 to assess the relationship between crop diversity and the stability of both economic and caloric yields at the state level within the USA. We found that, after controlling for climatic instability and differences in irrigated area, crop diversity was positively associated with economic yield stability but negatively associated with caloric yield stability. Further, we found that crops with a propensity for increasing economic yield stability but reducing caloric yield stability were often found in the most diverse states. We propose that price responses to changes in production for high-value crops underly the positive relationship between diversity and economic yield stability. In contrast, spatial concentration of calorie-dense crops in low-diversity states contributes to the negative relationship between diversity and caloric yield stability. Our results suggest that the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not universal, but instead dependent on the spatial scale in question and the stability metric of interest.

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