You don’t need a PhD in agriculture to know that water is critical to crop production.
You don’t need a PhD in agriculture to know that water is critical to crop production. But for years, people like Jonathan Proctor, who has a PhD in Agriculture and Resource Economics from the University of California Berkeley, have been trying to explain why the importance of water isn’t showing up in statistical models of crop yield.
“Studies analyzing how crop yields respond to temperature and rainfall tend to find that temperature matters much more than water, even though we understand from plant physiology that temperature and water supply are both really important for crops,” said Proctor, a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Peter Huybers’ group at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “Solving this puzzle is critical for quantifying how climate change will affect global crop yields.”
The research team had a hypothesis: What if the models were measuring the wrong type of water? Rather than measuring precipitation, as previous studies had done, the Harvard team used satellites to measure soil moisture around the root zone for maize, soybeans, millet, and sorghum growing around the world.
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