Climate forecasts shown to warn of crop failures
But if economics set the bar for crop yield, other factors – including climate – can still cause variations that lead to good years and devastating years.
"We're trying to bound how much the weather matters. For particular crops in particular places it makes a huge difference, especially with wheat," Brown said. "This paper gives us the tools we need to understand the sources of variability outside of the economic sphere."
While climate's role in crop yields and failures may seem intuitive, it's difficult to demonstrate in part because of the overwhelming influence of social and economic factors, Brown said. But integrating climate and economic predictions can lead to a better understanding of crop yields and failures – especially in a changing climate.
This paper is an initial step in a much larger effort to allow farmers in poor countries to get better harvests in years with good growing conditions, and build resiliency for the other years, Brown said.
For example, if satellite data and climate models forecast a good season for rice before seeds are even planted, farmers or communities could get loans to invest in technologies to take advantage of the good weather, while insurers could keep insurance premiums low. If the forecast calls for a poor growing season, the loans would be smaller and insurance premiums larger. It could work as both a social safety net for agricultural communities, Brown said, as well as encourage communities and governments to invest in the infrastructure needed to take advantage of those good years.
"We can make a new framework that would allow much greater exploitation of satellite data and climate prediction models," she said. "If you knew you were going to have a good year, you could plan, you could give out loans, you could do other things to boost food production to be prepared for bad years."