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Keywords:

  • carbon dioxide;
  • climate change;
  • CO2 fertilization;
  • crop yield;
  • food security;
  • maize;
  • soybean

Abstract

Accurate estimates of the fertilization effect that elevated carbon dioxide [CO2] has on crop yields are valuable for estimation of future crop production, yet there is still some controversy over these estimates due to possible CO2-by-water-status interactions in chamber studies and the difficulty of conducting field experiments with elevated [CO2]. This study presents a new method to estimate the CO2 fertilization effect (CFE) in dry conditions (CFEdry), based on a combination of historical yield and climatic data and field experiments that do not require elevated [CO2]. It was estimated that approximately 50 years of increasing [CO2] (i.e., a 73 ppm increase) resulted in a 9% and 14% improvement of yield in dry conditions for maize and soybean, respectively, which are similar to estimates derived from free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) studies. The main source of uncertainty in this approach relates to differential effects of technology trends such as new cultivars in wet vs. dry years. Estimates of this technology–water interaction can be refined by further experimentation under ambient [CO2], offering a cost-effective path for improving CFE estimates. The results should prove useful for modeling future yield impacts of climate change, and the approach could be used to derive estimates for other species using relatively simple yield trials.