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Fifth National Climate Assessment - Read the Report

Modeling the impacts of climate variability on agriculture

Researchers are improving understanding of how shifts in climate conditions affect agricultural production, as well as the value of providing advance climate information to producers.

Climate variability and change affect agricultural yields and livelihoods1. Improving our understanding of how the interaction of climate variability and change affects agricultural production, particularly on regional scales that are more relevant to decision making, is an important research frontier. As part of the joint NSF-USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture program on Decadal and Regional Climate Variability Using Earth System Models, researchers modeled the impacts of climate variability on water resources and agriculture in the Missouri River Basin. Simulated climate data and observed yields from a large variety of crops were provided as inputs to an economic impacts model along with various other choices that producers might make about their operations, including purchasing crop insurance. Using modeled decadal and regional climate predictions to optimize management decisions, researchers found that successful climate predictions for up to a year in advance could provide producers for that region alone with as much as $30 million in economic value, and for longer periods of up to five years, as much as $80 million2. Successful predictions, based largely on phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—a long-lived pattern of climate variability that influences temperature and precipitation in the United States—could also inform adaptation decisions for producers.

1 Brown, M.E., J.M. Antle, P. Backlund, E.R. Carr, W.E. Easterling, M.K. Walsh, C. Ammann, W. Attavanich, C.B. Barrett, M.F. Bellemare, V. Dancheck, C. Funk, K. Grace, J.S.I. Ingram, H. Jiang, H. Maletta, T. Mata, A. Murray, M. Ngugi, D. Ojima, B. O’Neill, and C. Tebaldi. 2015. Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System. 146 pages. Available online at

2 Fernandez, M.A., P. Huang, B. McCarl, and V.M. Mehta, 2016:  Value of decadal climate variability information for agriculture in the Missouri River Basin. Climatic Change,