Soil quality both increases crop production and improves resilience to climate change

Lei Qiao, Xuhui Wang, Pete Smith, Jinlong Fan, Yuelai Lu, Bridget Emmet, Rong Li, Stephen Dorling, Haiqing Chen, Shaogui Liu, Tim G. Benton, Yaojun Wang, Yuqing Ma, Rongfeng Jiang, Fusuo Zhang, Shilong Piao, Christoph Mϋller, Huaqing Yang, Yanan Hao, Wangmei LiMingsheng Fan* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Interactions between soil quality and climate change may influence the capacity of croplands to produce sufficient food. Here, we address this issue by using a new dataset of soil, climate and associated yield observations for 12,115 site-years representing 90% of total cereal production in China. Across crops and environmental conditions, we show that high-quality soils reduced the sensitivity of crop yield to climate variability leading to both higher mean crop yield (10.3 ± 6.7%) and higher yield stability (decreasing variability by 15.6 ± 14.4%). High-quality soils improve the outcome for yields under climate change by 1.7% (0.5–4.0%), compared to low-quality soils. Climate-driven yield change could result in reductions of national cereal production of 11.4 Mt annually under representative concentration pathway RCP 8.5 by 2080–2099. While this production reduction was exacerbated by 14% due to soil degradation, it can be reduced by 21% through soil improvement. This study emphasizes the vital role of soil quality in agriculture under climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-580
Number of pages8
JournalNature Climate Change
Early online date9 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

We thank J. Pan in Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences for her help in projecting future climate by using the global gridded climate data of 0.5° × 0.5° horizontal resolution of five ESMs. We thank J. Yang, M. He and P. Hou for their help in categorizing types of crop varieties. We also thank Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network for organizing a workshop on soil quality, climate change and food security and discussing an early version of the manuscript. This work was financially supported by the National Key Research and Development Programme of China (2017YFD0200108) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31972520) for M.F., L.Q., H.C., Y.M., H.Y., Y.H. and W.L. The input of P.S. contributes to the Newton Fund/UKRI-funded project N-Circle (BB/N013484/1). The input of B.E. was supported by the Newton Fund/UKRI-funded project CINAg project (BB/N013468/1).

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Data availability
Data that support these findings are available via GitHub (

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