An Economic Analysis of Global Impacts, Adaptation and Distributional Effects
- New Horizons in Environmental Economics series
2. The role of climate in agricultural production1 In this chapter we discuss the natural scientific mechanisms through which climatic variables affect crops and livestock. Crops and livestock are affected by climate via multiple mechanisms, directly and indirectly. The natural science literature addressing the physiology of crops and animals is quite complicated and yet still incomplete (Wolfe and Erickson, 1994, p. 154; NRC, 1981, p. 1). However, there is sufficient evidence to expect that climate change will affect agricultural productivity. The chapter discusses how each climatic effect interacts with crop production and animal growth and production. First, both controlled laboratory experiments and field experience reveal that each crop or animal has an optimal range of climate in which that crop or animal yields the highest growth and production. Sub-optimal climate conditions lead to lower growth rates and production levels. Second, various factors directly and indirectly affect the ability of crops and livestock to grow and produce in a given climate. Background factors such as soils and water may interact with climate and change the relationship of climate and production. For example, a poor soil may not only reduce overall production, but it may make a crop more sensitive to temperature or precipitation as well. A stylized depiction is shown in Figure 2.1. With good soil and no other limitation, growth and production are maximized in the optimal climate range. With poor soil, growth and production are lower in the optimal climate. However, the interaction between the poor soil and higher...
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