Is rainfall a greater threat to China's agriculture than warming?

April 4, 2012

New research into the impact of climate change on Chinese cereal crops has found rainfall has a greater impact than rising temperature. The research, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that while maize is sensitive to warming increases in temperature from 1980 onwards correlated with both higher and lower yields of rice and wheat.

The study was carried by Dr. Tianyi Zhang, from the Institute of , and Dr. Yao Huang, from the Institute of , both at the . The paper is part of a special collection of free articles on the links between climate change, agriculture and the function of plants.

"China has experienced significant over the last century", said Zhang. "The annual mean increased by 1.1 °C from 1951 to 2001, in Western China increased by up to 15% per decade and decreased in the North."

"Projections from climate models predict that mean temperature could rise by 2.3-3.3 °C by 2050 while rainfall could increase by 5-7%," said Huang. "This could have a major impact on China's agriculture which accounts for 7% of the world's arable land but feeds about 22% of the global population."

The authors turned to China's provincial agricultural statistics and compared the data to climate information from the China Meteorological Administration. They focused their analysis on China's main cereal crops, rice, which is grown throughout China, as well as wheat and maize, which are mainly grown in the North.

The results show a significant warming trend in China from 1980 to 2008 and that maize is particularly sensitive to warming. However, they also found that rising temperature collated with both higher and lower wheat and rice yields, refuting the thoughts that warming often results in a decline in harvests.

"Of the three cereal crops, further analysis suggested that reduction in yields with higher temperature is accompanied by lower rainfall, which mainly occurred in northern parts of China," said Zhang. "This suggests it was potentially droughts, relative to warming, that more affected harvest yields in the current climate."

"It is often claimed that the rising temperature causes a decrease in the yields of Chinese , yet our results show that warming had no significant harmful effect on cereal yields especially for rice and wheat at a national scale from 1980 to 2008," concluded Zhang and Huang. "However, warming may still plays an indirect role, like the exacerbated drought conditions caused by the rising temperatures."

Explore further: Half of world's population could face climate-induced food crisis by 2100

More information: Tianyi Zhang, Yao Huang, Impacts of climate change and inter-annual variability on cereal crops in China from 1980 to 2008, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2011, DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.5523

Related Stories

Climate: Risks loom for China: study

September 1, 2010

Climate change could reduce key harvests in China by a fifth if the gloomiest scenarios prove true, according to a study on Wednesday.

Technology, economics may counter climate impact

February 24, 2011

The impacts of climate change on corn yields in the United States and China in coming decades may not be all bad, according to a new Cornell and University of Tokyo study published in a recent issue of the journal Agricultural ...

Climate-driven heat peaks may shrink wheat crops

January 29, 2012

More intense heat waves due to global warming could diminish wheat crop yields around the world through premature ageing, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change.

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

Image: Sentinel-1A captures Azore islands

October 9, 2015

This Sentinel-1A radar image was processed to depict water in blue and land in earthen colours. It features some of the Azore islands about 1600 km west of Lisbon, including the turtle-shaped Faial, the dagger-like Sao Jorge ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.