The possible impacts on wheat production of a recurrence of the 1930s drought in the U.S. Great Plains

Richard A. Warrick

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What would be the impacts on wheat production if the U.S. Great Plains were to suffer another severe, prolonged drought? The 1930s drought is chosen as a worst-case scenario, and two sets of crop-yield regression models are employed to simulate yields using actual 1932–40 weather values and assuming constant 1975 technology. The results are first compared to normal or expected yields in each of 53 crop reporting districts in order to determine the range and spatial variation in yield departures over the nine-year period. Assuming a 1976 crop area, wheat production levels are then calculated and aggregated to give Plains-wide estimates for each year. It is found that the sequence of 1930s weather results in continuous, prolonged declines in expected production. Plains-wide yields are below normal (on average about 9–14%) for nine consecutive years. In the poorest years, the impacts are areally widespread with about nine-tenths of the Plains experiencing yield declines. The spatial variation in yields is substantial, however, ranging from over 100% to below 40% of expected even in the poorest years. In the worst year (1936), simulated production is sharply reduced by about -25%, or 9.6 million metric tonnes. The cumulative deficit over the nine-year period is roughly equivalent to a full year's wheat production. The major conclusion is that a return of a 1930s-type drought would still inflict widespread, heavy damage on wheat production in the Great Plains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-26
Number of pages22
JournalClimatic Change
Publication statusPublished - 1984

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