Few industries – if any – feel the direct impacts of climate change more than agriculture. As weather patterns become more extreme, so do the risks.
Geosys has been monitoring crops across the globe using industry-leading satellite and weather data for more than 30 years. Through the unbiased lens of data analytics, our team has evaluated the impact of climate change on crop production in key growing regions. The need for sustainable agricultural practices is undeniable. Through enhanced crop monitoring, we can support better management decisions in-season and mitigate risk in order to meet the demands of a growing population.
Here we provide an overview of the 5 most impacted crop regions based on the 2019 Climate & Crop Report.
Overview – Impact of Climate Change on Crops
The following chart give an overview of yield performance compared to the 15-year trend average for the 5 most impacted regions.
2019 Climate Review
Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one as the average global temperature has risen by approximately 1.1°C (1.98°F) since the pre-industrial era. While 2016 remains the warmest year – due to the warming impact of a very strong El Niño event in addition to the climate change trend – 2019 was the second warmest year on record.
Unfortunately, this warming trend is expected to continue. We have record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General, “On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 °C by the end of century.”
On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and “abnormal” weather. Heatwaves and floods that used to be a once-in-a-century occurrence are becoming more regular while tropical cyclones are more powerful and precipitation patterns are more erratic. All these climate change impacts increase weather vulnerability – posing an even greater threat to crop yields.
For more information about climate change the extreme weather events of 2019, view the 2019 Climate & Crop Report.
5 Most Impacted Regions
This is a look at 5 of the most impacted regions in 2019 – for all of the maps and graphs for these regions, and for information on climate change for the other key growing regions, view the 2019 Climate & Crop Report.
Australia – Drought and Fires
September to December marked Australia’s driest in 120 years. In eastern Australia, bushfire season began much earlier than usual and became one of the most significant in terms of spatial area burned. On December 18, the country recorded its hottest national average temperature on record with 41.9°C (107.4°F). These exceptionally dry conditions can be explained in part by the intense positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, whose effects include a typical severe reduction in precipitation across Australia.
Except for Victoria, all states experienced periods of below normal precipitation. New South Wales had the worst season, with cumulative rainfall from May 1 to November 30 at 50-80% below normal. Western Australia had some early season rain but that eventually gave way to drought. NDVI values reveal a lack of vegetation as a result of persistent dryness with the curve emerging late, reaching low peak vegetation and entering early senescence. South Australia had a much better start to the season with above average rainfall in May and June, but it also gave way to drought like conditions. South Australia also suffered cold spells at the end of August and early September and portions of the main production area had localized impact on cereals at the heading stage. Finally, Victoria, was the only bright spot this season with close to average rainfall and a healthy NDVI.
Dryness across the whole country accelerated crop losses and the effects of cutting cereals for hay as animal feed. Wheat suffered the greatest negative impact while barley and rapeseed managed to avoid similar losses. The 2019 season ended below the yield trend average for all three crops with wheat down 25%, barley down 9%, and rapeseed down 8%.
USA – Wet Sowing Conditions
The year started with an exceptionally wet period from January to May – marking the wettest period on record in the contiguous U.S. since 1895. This led to multiple significant and damaging floods across part of the Plains, Midwest and Mississippi River Valley.
The first wave of flooding occurred during March 2019. Numerous rivers and streams throughout the Missouri River basin resulted in extensive damage in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. The second wave of flooding extended from May to July, impacting an even more expansive area of the Midwest and Southeast; notably within the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Ohio River basins.
With the 2019 corn season beginning under these historically wet conditions, many states were negatively impacted. Corn planting was so delayed that farmers decided to forgo planting some of their intended acres. The cumulative precipitation was above normal across the corn and soybean belt by about 10-50% throughout the growing season. Consequently, soil moisture reserves remained above normal the entire season. Temperatures during the July – August period were normal to below normal depending on the area within the corn and soybean belt. The corn and soybean crop did not experience any “high heat” stress during this season. Only parts of Nebraska and Kansas experienced more than a few days with temperatures of 34°C or higher.
We can see the impact of the planting delays in the NDVI. Vegetation indices show just how far behind the corn and soybeans crops were from the beginning, with peak vegetation coming on later than normal across much of the grain belt.
For most of the corn belt, average vegetation index values from July 15 to September 30 were equivalent to, or even higher than last year as a result of the later start. What wasn’t so obvious was corn’s ability to catch-up during the season, resulting in better than expected yields. U.S. corn NDVI started late but had similar NDVI peaks to 2016, which was a record year for production. These data points attest to the performance of the crops during the second half of the cycle and, from October, pointed to a better than expected production. The performance of soybeans yields was like corn with high NDVI values in August and September resulting in better production.
The season ended with harvest delays following wet conditions across the Dakotas and Minnesota. Early snow and freezing temperatures also arrived ahead of normal for those same areas, preventing harvest and leaving up to 5% of U.S. corn production still in the field until spring 2020. NDVI showed soybeans 5% below trend, corn 3% below trend and wheat at 6% below trend.
Russia – Dry and Hot
The first part of the winter wheat season was in good weather and the NDVI values showed good crop health. However, dry weather and hot spells from May onward significantly lowered the yield potential of crops. In June, for example, the southern winter wheat zone faced up to 18 days of maximum temperatures above 30°C (86°F). The lack of water and the scalding phenomena resulted in an average yield 3% lower than the yield trend, although it was noted that the performances were slightly better than in the previous year.
In the spring wheat zone, the difficulties started in the west from the end of spring. A marked dry trend affected the earing of crops and led to a significant drop in wheat vigor. Harvests in the Volga region were disrupted by heavy rains in the summer. At the same time, the east faced drought conditions, particularly during the months of July and August. These conditions led to disappointing yields for spring wheat, 1% below the yield trend.
Although there was low humidity in the first phase of the corn cycle, the rather low water requirements of corn during vegetative development helped avoid serious problems. The return of rain at the end of June and throughout July were extremely beneficial for the crops during flowering and the beginning of grain filling. The end of the cycle was less favorable with dry weather, however the cool trend at the end of the summer significantly limited the impact of the drought. In the end, corn yields reached a record level, almost 5% above the yield trend.
Brazil – Hot and Dry
The 2019 season was characterized by hot and dry growing conditions for Safra (first crop) and improved conditions for Safrinha (second crop). In Mato Grosso – which accounts for more than 30% of national production – rainfall in the early planting and development stages for soybeans was adequate and max temperatures were consistently at or above 36°C (96.8°F). But things started to shift as the season progressed.
Normal to above average cumulative precipitation helped provide an early boost for soybeans planted at a record pace. The situation changed from December 1 to February 28 with cumulative rainfall 20-30% below normal. Soybean harvesting finished in early February at a rapid pace, allowing the Safrinha corn crop to be sown in record time. Weather conditions remained favorable for corn cultivation until harvesting and as a result, yield was 2% above the trend line average.
Weather was less favorable in the southern states of Brazil, particularly in Paraná (the second largest soybean-producing state, the leading Safra corn-producing state and the second largest Safrinha corn-producing state). Unlike Mato Grosso, Paraná soybean yields were negatively impacted by dryness and hot temperatures. From December 1 to February 28, cumulative rainfall was 40% below normal and max temperatures reached 38°C (100°F).
The case of Brazilian wheat is a perfect illustration of the risk to arable crops from climatic hazards. Wheat is grown in southern Brazil, mainly in the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul. During the 2019 season, a long dry period began in early June and continued through the end of the wheat season with cumulative rainfall 80% below normal in Paraná. Additionally, cold episodes during heading reduced grain fertility and therefore yield potential. At this development stage, temperatures below 4°C (39.2°F) are detrimental to the plants. This threshold was breached several times between June and August and 2019 yields were negatively impacted at 6% below trend line average.
Europe – Heat, Flooding and Droughts
With above-normal precipitation totals recorded in multiple regions, flooding became substantial during the fall. The first major flooding event in mid-September was caused by a cut-off area of low pressure that was located over the Iberian Peninsula. The most significant event in Italy occurred in mid-November because of several low-pressure systems that originated in the western Mediterranean. In Southern France, two notable “Mediterranean episodes”, a phenomenon that brings intense storm systems mostly during the autumn months, occurred November 22-23 and December 1-2, leading to significant floods. This was a sharp contract to the dry conditions experienced July – September. Specifically, France had a total of 34 consecutive days (August 19–September 21) without rain, its second longest dry spell on record. However, the drought situation was milder than it was in 2018, due to increased precipitation at the end of year.
The 2018/2019 season in Europe started with the sowing of rapeseed during the summer of 2018. July through September 2018 were characterized by a dry trend in the top 3 rapeseed producing countries in Europe. These conditions strongly penalized the sowing and emergence of crops. Largely for this, the areas harvested in Europe in 2019 were 17% lower than the 15-year trend – but unattractive prices also played a role in this situation. Crops that suffered greatly at the start of its cycle never fully recovered during the season. Finally, the dry trend in April during flowering contributed to the weakening of the production potential. Yields were disappointing in Germany (-5% compared to the yield trend), France (-6%) and Poland (-5%). Across the European Union, the average yield was 4% below the yield trend, and 8% below the 5-year average.
Spring conditions were favorable for the development of winter barley – particularly in the two leading producing countries of France and Germany. Total barley yields in these countries were more than 10% above trend, while we saw disappointing performance in Spain due to hot and dry spells during yield development.
For wheat, the mild winter limited the problems of winter frost and was favorable for the good resumption of crop growth in February-March. Spring precipitation was generous in the South-East of Europe, and rather close to normal in the West. In France, yields were 7% higher than the yield trend for winter wheat. The equally positive results of wheat in Romania and the United Kingdom enabled European production of soft wheat to hit 2% above the trend. Durum production on the continent ended 6% below the 15 years trend, penalized by the drought in the south, leading to the poor performances of durum wheat in Spain (-22% compared to the trend), Greece (-9%) and Italy (-3%). While France’s durum wheat yields were 5% above the yield trend, it was not enough to reverse the negative trend across Europe.
The corn season was marked by a strong difference between the west and the east. Satisfactory soil moisture around the Balkans allowed good yields in Hungary (+ 9% compared to the 15-year trend), Romania (+ 13%) and Serbia (+ 12%). However, the dry and summer heat in the center and west of the continent strongly penalized the pollination of corn, as seen in the significant drop in NDVI during this period. Yields were therefore very disappointing in France (-5% compared to the trend), Germany (-12%) and Poland (-13%). The very wet end to the season, which made harvesting particularly difficult in France, was another factor in the deterioration of the situation. European production finished close to 65MT, 5% below the 15-year yield trend. European yields were almost 3% below trend.
For more insights on the impacts of Climate Change on global crops, view the complete 2019 Climate & Crop Report.
All maps and charts within this post were sourced from the Geosys Agriquest tool, unless notes otherwise.