Historical changes in global yields: major cereal and legume crops from 1982 to 2006


  • Editor: Thomas Gillespie



Recent changes in crop yields have implications for future global food security, which are likely to be affected by climate change. We developed a spatially explicit global dataset of historical yields for maize, soybean, rice and wheat to explore the historical changes in mean, year-to-year variation and annual rate of change in yields for the period 1982–2006.


This study was conducted at the global scale.


We modelled historical and spatial patterns of yields at a grid size of 1.125° by combining global agricultural datasets related to the crop calendar and harvested area in 2000, country yield statistics and satellite-derived net primary production. Modelled yields were compared with other global datasets of yields in 2000 (M3-Crops and MapSPAM) and subnational yield statistics for 23 major crop-producing countries. Historical changes in modelled yields were then examined.


Modelled yields explained 45–81% of the spatial variation of yields in 2000 from M3-Crops and MapSPAM, with root-mean-square errors of 0.5–1.8 t ha−1. Most correlation coefficients between modelled yield time series and subnational yield statistics for the period 1982–2006 in major crop-producing regions were greater than 0.8. Our analysis corroborated the incidence of reported yield stagnations and collapses and showed that low and mid latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere (0–40°S) experienced significantly increased year-to-year variation in maize, rice and wheat yields in 1994–2006 compared with that in 1982–93.

Main conclusions

Our analyses revealed increased instability of yields across a broad region of the Southern Hemisphere, where many developing countries are located. Such changes are likely to be related to recent yield stagnation and collapses. Although our understanding of the impacts of recent climate change, particularly the incidence of climate extremes, on crop yields remains limited, our dataset offers opportunities to close parts of this knowledge gap.