The Benefits of Recent Warming on Maize Production in High Latitude China


Latitudes above 45°N have been characterized by rates of warming faster than the global average since 1980. However, the effects of this warming on crop production at these latitudes are still unclear. Using 30-years of weather and crop management data in Heilongjiang area of China (43.4° to 53.4°N), combined with the Hybrid-Maize model, we show that maize yields would have stagnated in most areas and decreased in the southern part of Heilongjiang if varieties were assumed fixed since 1980. However, we show that through farmers’ adaptation, warming has benefitted maize production for much of this region. Specifically, farmers gradually chose longer maturing varieties, resulting in a net 7–17 % yield increase per decade. Meanwhile, farmers also rapidly expanded maize area (from 1.88 million ha in 1980 to 4.01 million ha in 2009) and the northward limit of maize area shifted by more than 290 km from ~50.8°N to ~53.4°N. Overall, benefits from warming represented 35 % of the overall yield gains in the region over this period. The results indicate substantial ongoing adaptations and benefits at north high-latitudes, although they still represent a small fraction of global maize area. The sustainability of crop area expansion in these regions remains unclear and deserves further study.