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Abstract, Science Advances, 2018 Nov

Testing our understanding of crop yield responses to weather fluctuations at global scale is notoriously hampered by limited information about underlying management conditions, such as cultivar selection or fertilizer application. Here, we demonstrate that accounting for observed spatial variations in growing seasons increases the variance in reported national maize and wheat yield anomalies that can be explained by process-based model simulations from 34 to 58% and 47 to 54% across the 10 most weather-sensitive main producers, respectively. For maize, the increase in explanatory power is similar to the increase achieved by accounting for water stress, as compared to simulations assuming perfect water supply in both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. Representing water availability constraints in irrigation is of second-order importance. We improve the model’s explanatory power by better representing crops’ exposure to observed weather conditions, without modifying the weather response itself. This growing season adjustment now allows for a close reproduction of heat wave and drought impacts on crop yields.