ARIEL ORTIZ-BOBEA: United States agriculture is one of the most productive in the world. Since the 1950s, agricultural productivity has more than doubled. At the same time, agriculture remains inherently dependent on climate. Our research team wanted to know whether the massive transformation of the sector over the past half century have also made it more resilient to climatic shocks. With a changing climate, this is a critical question, not only for the US, but for other nations around the world who look up to agricultural development in the US as a blueprint for their own future.
We linked detailed weather information with agricultural productivity for each of the lower 48 states to quantify the relationship between productivity and weather. That includes both crop production and animal production. We found a clear connection between productivity and temperature. Exposure to hot summers are associated with lower productivity in most parts of the US.
One of our key findings is that the relationship has changed over time, particularly in Midwestern states. Prior to the 1980s, a 2-degrees-Celsius-warmer summer was associated with a drop in productivity of about 10%. Since then, the same environmental conditions are associated with a 30% drop in productivity.
We wondered why this was happening. So we dug deeper to see whether animal production or crop production was driving this pattern. We found two distinct but compounding sources. First, we found that these patterns seem more closely linked to changes in how we produce crops than to changes in how we produce animals. Second, the Midwest has become more specialized in crop production as opposed to animal production.
Our work reveals a trade-off between higher productivity and higher sensitivity to climate in US agriculture. We don't take a position on whether this trade off is undesirable, but it is important to realize we are making this trade-off, and we encourage policymakers to consider these patterns as they address how we can adapt to climate change.
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Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, assistant professor of applied economics and management, discusses the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity in the United States.