We present results from a pilot project to characterize and bound multi-disciplinary uncertainties around the assessment of maize (Zea mays) production impacts using the CERES-Maize crop model in a climate-sensitive region with a variety of farming systems (Panama). Segunda coa (autumn) maize yield in Panama currently suffers occasionally from high water stress at the end of the growing season, however under future climate conditions warmer temperatures accelerate crop maturation and elevated CO2 concentrations improve water retention. This combination reduces end-of-season water stresses and eventually leads to small mean yield gains according to median projections, although accelerated maturation reduces yields in seasons with low water stresses. Calibrations of cultivar traits, soil profile, and fertilizer amounts are most important for representing baseline yields, however sensitivity to all management factors are reduced in an assessment of future yield changes (most dramatically for fertilizers), suggesting that yield changes may be more generalizable than absolute yields.Uncertainty around GCMs’ projected changes in rainfall gain in importance throughout the century, with yield changes strongly correlated with growing season rainfall totals. Climate changes are expected to be obscured by the large interannual variations in Panamanian climate that will continue to be the dominant influence on seasonal maize yield into the coming decades. The relatively high (A2) and low (B1) emissions scenarios show little difference in their impact on future maize yields until the end of the century. Uncertainties related to the sensitivity of CERES-Maize to carbon dioxide concentrations have a substantial influence on projected changes, and remain a significant obstacle to climate change impacts assessment. Finally, an investigation into the potential of simple statistical yield emulators based upon key climate variables characterizes the important uncertainties behind the selection of climate change metrics and their performance against more complex process-based crop model simulations, revealing a danger in relying only on long-term mean quantities for crop impact assessment.
Ruane, A.C.; Cecil, L.D.; Horton, R.M.; Gordón, R.; McCollum, R.; Brown, D.; Killough, B.; Goldberg, R.; Greeley, A.P.; Rosenzweig, C. Climate change impact uncertainties for maize in Panama: Farm information, climate projections, and yield sensitivities. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology (2013) 170: 132-145. [DOI: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2011.10.015]