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The Future of Sugarcane Production in Southern Brazil

Paper Reviewed
dos Santos, D.L. and Sentelhas, P.C. 2014. Climate change scenarios and their impact on water balance and sugarcane yield in Southern Brazil. Sugar Tech 16: 356-365.

Providing some background for their work, dos Santos and Sentelhas (2014) write that "sugarcane is one of the main extensive crops in Southern Brazil, covering around 8 million hectares," where it "is mainly produced under rain-fed conditions, which makes the sugarcane sector very susceptible to climate variability and change." And in light of this sensitivity, they say the study of sugarcane's "agro-environmental vulnerability" is needed to determine its yield potential in the face of future climatic risks, which is what they thus go on to do in the remainder of their paper, where they "assess the impacts of different climate change scenarios on water balance and on potential and attainable yields of four sugarcane production regions in the state of Sao Paulo."

More specifically, the two Brazilian researchers created 12 future climate scenarios for the years 2030, 2060 and 2090 by combining changes in temperature and rainfall for each region, where recent historical temperatures of the four regions were increased by 2, 4 and 6°C, and where rainfall amounts were altered by -10, -5 +5 and +10% of recent historical amounts. And using the resulting different climatic data sets, they calculated sugarcane potential yield by means of the Agro-Ecological Zone model of Doorenbos and Kassam (1979).

The results of this exercise indicated, in the words of dos Santos and Sentelhas, that "even with the huge impact of climate change on the water balance of all locations, the potential and actual yields may increase substantially as a function of the combination of higher air temperatures, higher CO2 concentration and also better management practices in the future scenarios." By 2090, for example they found that "even with a higher water deficit, the sugarcane actual yield may increase by 82, 71, 51 and 59%, respectively, for Aracatuba, Assis, Jaboticabal and Piracicabe [representing the four sugarcane production regions of Southern Brazil], which indicates an improvement in the water use efficiency." And based on these significant findings, they conclude that "sugarcane stands up as a very important crop to face climate change in Brazil and probably around the world." Thus we find yet another potentially large benefit of CO2-induced climate change projected for the future!

Doorenbos, J. and Kassam, A.H. 1979. Yield Response to Water. FAO Irrigation. and Drainage. Paper No. 33, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy. 193 pp.

Posted 21 January 2015