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Global wheat production potentials and management flexibility under the representative concentration pathways

Balkovič, Juraj, van der Velde, Marijn, Skalský, Rastislav, Xiong, Wei, Folberth, Christian, Khabarov, Nikolay, Smirnov, Alexey, Mueller, Nathaniel D., Obersteiner, Michael
Global and Planetary Change 2014 v.122 pp. 107-121
agricultural management, agroecosystems, climate, climate change, cropland, environmental policy, food security, geographical variation, grain yield, infrastructure, irrigation, models, wheat, Eastern European region, North America, Russia
Wheat is the third largest crop globally and an essential source of calories in human diets. Maintaining and increasing global wheat production is therefore strongly linked to food security. A large geographic variation in wheat yields across similar climates points to sizeable yield gaps in many nations, and indicates a regionally variable flexibility to increase wheat production. Wheat is particularly sensitive to a changing climate thus limiting management opportunities to enable (sustainable) intensification with potentially significant implications for future wheat production. We present a comprehensive global evaluation of future wheat yields and production under distinct Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) using the Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) agro-ecosystem model. We project, in a geographically explicit manner, future wheat production pathways for rainfed and irrigated wheat systems. We explore agricultural management flexibility by quantifying the development of wheat yield potentials under current, rainfed, exploitable (given current irrigation infrastructure), and irrigated intensification levels. Globally, because of climate change, wheat production under conventional management (around the year 2000) would decrease across all RCPs by 37 to 52 and 54 to 103Mt in the 2050s and 2090s, respectively. However, the exploitable and potential production gap will stay above 350 and 580Mt, respectively, for all RCPs and time horizons, indicating that negative impacts of climate change can globally be offset by adequate intensification using currently existing irrigation infrastructure and nutrient additions. Future world wheat production on cropland already under cultivation can be increased by ~35% through intensified fertilization and ~50% through increased fertilization and extended irrigation, if sufficient water would be available. Significant potential can still be exploited, especially in rainfed wheat systems in Russia, Eastern Europe and North America.