Climate change impacts on crop yield, soil water balance and nitrate leaching in the semiarid and humid regions of Canada

Citation

He, W., Yang, J.Y., Qian, B., Drury, C.F., Hoogenboom, G., He, P., Lapen, D., Zhou, W. (2018). Climate change impacts on crop yield, soil water balance and nitrate leaching in the semiarid and humid regions of Canada, 13(11), http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207370

Plain language summary

The impact of climate change on agricultural systems is a major concern as it can have a significant effect on the world food supply. The objective of this study was to evaluate climate change impacts on crop production and nitrate leaching in two distinct climatic zones in Canada. Spring wheat was selected for the semiarid regions of Swift Current, SK and maize was chosen for the more humid regions of Woodslee, Southern Ontario. Climate scenarios were based upon simulations from a Canadian Regional Climate Model under two Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) and crop simulations were conducted using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT) model. Compared to the baseline climate scenario, wheat yields increased by 8, 8, 11, 15%, whereas maize yields decreased by 15, 25, 22, 41% under RCP4.5 2050s (2041–2070), RCP4.5 2080s (2071–2100), RCP8.5 2050s and RCP8.5 2080s scenarios, respectively. Annual nitrate leaching increased by 19, 57, 73, 129% at Swift Current and by 84, 117, 208, 317% at Woodslee under the four scenarios, respectively. Adaptation measures suggested that fertilizer N rate for spring wheat should be increased to 80–100 kg N ha-1 to obtain optimal yields although this will result in an additional risk of 5–8 kg N ha-1 nitrate leaching at Swift Current. The fertilizer N rate of 150 kg N ha-1 was found to be suitable for high maize yields at Woodslee. New wheat and maize cultivars with long growing seasons would enable crop growth to match the plant growth stage and hence maintain high crop yields to adapt to increased temperatures in the future.

Abstract

The impact of climate change on agricultural systems is a major concern as it can have a significant effect on the world food supply. The objective of this study was to evaluate climate change impacts on crop production and nitrate leaching in two distinct climatic zones in Canada. Spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) was selected for the semiarid regions of Western Canada (Swift Current, SK) and maize (Zea mays L.) was chosen for the more humid regions of central Canada (Woodslee, ON). Climate scenarios were based upon simulations from a Canadian Regional Climate Model (CanRCM4) under two Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) and crop simulations were conducted using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT) model. Compared to the baseline climate scenario, wheat yields increased by 8, 8, 11, 15%, whereas maize yields decreased by 15, 25, 22, 41% under RCP4.5 2050s (2041–2070), RCP4.5 2080s (2071–2100), RCP8.5 2050s and RCP8.5 2080s scenarios, respectively. Annual nitrate leaching increased by 19, 57, 73, 129% at Swift Current and by 84, 117, 208, 317% at Woodslee under the four scenarios, respectively. Adaptation measures suggested that fertilizer N rate for spring wheat should be increased to 80–100 kg N ha to obtain optimal yields although this will result in an additional risk of 5–8 kg N ha nitrate leaching at Swift Current. The fertilizer N rate of 150 kg N ha was found to be suitable for high maize yields at Woodslee. New wheat and maize cultivars with long growing seasons would enable crop growth to match the phenological stage and hence maintain high crop yields to adapt to increased temperatures in the future. -1 -1 -1