US Geological Survey

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 00-332
Online version 1.0
Web only


An Assessment of Irrigation Needs and Crop Yield for the United States under Potential Climate Changes

By Kelly Brumbelow1 and Aris Georgakakos1

1 Georgia Water Resources Institute, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0355 USA


Past assessments of climate change on U.S. agriculture have mostly focused on changes in crop yield. Few studies have included the entire conterminous U.S., and few studies have assessed changing irrigation requirements. None have included the effects of changing soil moisture characteristics as determined by changing climatic forcing. This study assesses changes in irrigation requirements and crop yields for five crops in the areas of the U.S. where they have traditionally been grown. Physiologically-based crop models are used to incorporate inputs of climate, soils, agricultural management, and drought stress tolerance. Soil moisture values from a macroscale hydrologic model run under a future climate scenario are used to initialize soil moisture content at the beginning of each growing season. Historical crop yield data is used to calibrate model parameters and determine locally acceptable drought stress as a management parameter. Changes in irrigation demand and crop yield are assessed for both means and extremes by comparing results for atmospheric forcing close to the present climate with those for a future climate scenario. Assessments using the Canadian Center for Climate Modeling and Analysis General Circulation Model (CGCM1) indicate greater irrigation demands in the southern U.S. and decreased irrigation demands in the northern and western U.S. Crop yields typically increase except for winter wheat in the southern U.S. and corn. Variability in both irrigation demands and crop yields increases in most cases. Assessment results for the CGCM1 climate scenario are compared to those for the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research GCM (HadCM2) scenario for southwestern Georgia. The comparison shows significant differences in irrigation and yield trends, both in magnitude and direction. The differences reflect the high forecast uncertainty of current GCMs. Nonetheless, both GCMs indicate higher variability in future climatic forcing and, consequently, in the response of agricultural systems.


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