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Farmers could adjust to temperature variations for rice and maize but not for wheat: Study

Farmers and climate change| The researchers examined the long-term average effect of the yields of three major cereal crops in India

By pragyaanant
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wheat farmers and climate change

Farmers and climate change | It has become clear over the past decades that climate change and resulting extreme weather severely impact the productivity of crops. It is alarming that agricultural vulnerability varies greatly between industrialized and developing countries. In a recent research at the University of Illinois, USA, scientists examined the major grains consumed in India to understand better the long and short-term impacts of climate change on agricultural yields.

According to Prof. Madhu Khanna, affiliated at the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA, most of the studies measure the effects of climate change are considering year-to-year changes, which demonstrates variations in weather and not climate. However, the researchers examined the variations in weather using data over 60 years to study the long-term average effect of the yields of three major cereal crops in India such as rice, maize, and wheat.

Farmer at work in maize field in Bihar, India
Farmer at work in maize field in Bihar, India | Photo: Flickr

The transition of Weather into Climate

Weather, the short-term variations are transient, such as a hot day with an unexpected thunderstorm. However, these variations might not be the same as the long-term ones that characterize climate change. The researchers investigated that the impact of short-term variations in extreme temperature and precipitation is significant. The short-term data had compared to their long-term averages. Suppose the effects are absent in the long term, which concludes that farmers have adapted to climate change. For both short-term and long-term responses of crops, the scientists developed various models using 60-year data on temperature, precipitation, length of growing season, and crop production.

The study concluded that farmers could adjust to temperature variations for rice and maize but not for wheat. Increased precipitation improved rice yield but harmed wheat and maize crops. It is also discovered that farmers adapt different strategies to match various geographies and crops. 

Prof. Surender Kumar, an economics professor at the University of Delhi in India, stated that the impacts have a more significant effect at the bottom end of the distribution but are lesser at the top. Farmers who worked in less productive regions belong to the distribution's lower tail. They reacted differently from those who worked in more productive regions. The former executed more adaptation measures as a result of more significant impacts.

Wheat Fields Punjab Patiala
Wheat Fields Punjab Patiala | Photo: Jeevan Singla from Pixabay


The distinction between long-term and short-term impacts is negligible. Higher productive areas have better infrastructure for irrigation and are less dependent on the monsoon. According to a study published in the journal Agricultural Economics, crops may shift in two ways: the farmers alter their management techniques, or the crops become more durable. This study cannot rule out either of these scenarios. But, it suggests that steps can be taken to improve seed types and inform farmers about adapting to changing climates. 

Understanding that focusing on specific aspects of climate change and adapting crops may not be enough will help to take a holistic view of how changing climate affects yield, which is a tough and complex challenge.

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