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Academic Article: Impacts of Climate Variability and Adaptation Strategies on Crop Yields and Soil Organic Carbon in the US Midwest

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Authors: Lin Liu and Bruno Basso

Published: January 28, 2020


Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of drought and more extreme precipitation events.

The objectives of this study were

  1. to assess the impact of extended drought followed by heavy precipitation events on yield and soil organic carbon (SOC) under historical and future climate, and
  2. to evaluate the effectiveness of climate adaptation strategies (no-tillage and new cultivars) in mitigating impacts of increased frequencies of extreme events and warming.

We used the validated SALUS crop model to simulate long-term maize and wheat yield and SOC changes of maize-soybean-wheat rotation cropping systems in the northern Midwest USA under conventional tillage and no-till for three climate change scenarios (one historical and two projected climates under the Representative Concentration Path (RCP) 4.5 and RCP6) and two precipitation changes (extreme precipitation occurring early or late season). Extended drought events caused additional yield reduction when they occurred later in the season (10–22% for maize and 5–13% for wheat) rather than in early season (5–17% for maize and 2–18% for wheat).

We found maize grain yield declined under the projected climates, whereas wheat grain yield increased. No-tillage is able to reduce yield loss compared to conventional tillage and increased SOC levels (1.4–2.0 t/ha under the three climates), but could not reverse the adverse impact of climate change, unless early and new improved maize cultivars are introduced to increase yield and SOC under climate change.

This study demonstrated the need to consider extreme weather events, particularly drought and extreme precipitation events, in climate impact assessment on crop yield and adaptation through no-tillage and new genetics reduces yield losses.


Maize-soybean-wheat rotational cropping systems in the northern Midwest US are vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change. Maize grain yield is projected to decline under the RCP4.5 and RCP6 climates, compared to the historical climate, whereas wheat grain yield will increase under the projected two climate scenarios. We found that additional SOC loss occurred under the two projected climate scenarios, compared to the historical climate, for both conventional tillage and no-till treatments. The extreme events (extended drought followed by heavy rainfall events) occurring at either early or late growing season will likely cause reduction in maize and wheat yield. The reduction in grain yield caused by extreme precipitation events was larger when the extreme precipitation events occurred in the late season than in the early season for maize.

No-till management systems cannot eliminate climate impact on the rainfed rotational cropping system. Adaptation strategies have to be adopted to mitigate climate change impact on cropping systems. We showed that planting early and adopting improved maize cultivars characterized by longer duration and more kernels, could mitigate the adverse impact of climate change on grain yield and SOC.

Academic Citation

  • Liu, Lin, and Bruno Basso. 2020. “Impacts of Climate Variability and Adaptation Strategies on Crop Yields and Soil Organic Carbon in the US Midwest.” PloS One 15 (1): e0225433.


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