Aim To assemble a data set of global crop planting and harvesting dates for 19 major crops, explore spatial relationships between planting date and climate for two of them, and compare our analysis with a review of the literature on factors that drive decisions on planting dates.
Methods We digitized and georeferenced existing data on crop planting and harvesting dates from six sources. We then examined relationships between planting dates and temperature, precipitation and potential evapotranspiration using 30-year average climatologies from the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia (CRU CL 2.0).
Results We present global planting date patterns for maize, spring wheat and winter wheat (our full, publicly available data set contains planting and harvesting dates for 19 major crops). Maize planting in the northern mid-latitudes generally occurs in April and May. Daily average air temperatures are usually c. 12–17 °C at the time of maize planting in these regions, although soil moisture often determines planting date more directly than does temperature. Maize planting dates vary more widely in tropical regions. Spring wheat is usually planted at cooler temperatures than maize, between c. 8 and 14 °C in temperate regions. Winter wheat is generally planted in September and October in the northern mid-latitudes.
Main conclusions In temperate regions, spatial patterns of maize and spring wheat planting dates can be predicted reasonably well by assuming a fixed temperature at planting. However, planting dates in lower latitudes and planting dates of winter wheat are more difficult to predict from climate alone. In part this is because planting dates may be chosen to ensure a favourable climate during a critical growth stage, such as flowering, rather than to ensure an optimal climate early in the crop's growth. The lack of predictability is also due to the pervasive influence of technological and socio-economic factors on planting dates.