Uncertainties in global crop model frameworks: effects of cultivar distribution, crop management and soil handling on crop yield estimates
Abstract. Global gridded crop models (GGCMs) combine field-scale agronomic models or sets of plant growth algorithms with gridded spatial input data to estimate spatially explicit crop yields and agricultural externalities at the global scale. Differences in GGCM outputs arise from the use of different bio-physical models, setups, and input data. While algorithms have been in the focus of recent GGCM comparisons, this study investigates differences in maize and wheat yield estimates from five GGCMs based on the public domain field-scale model Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) that participate in the AgMIP Global Gridded Crop Model Intercomparison (GGCMI) project. Albeit using the same crop model, the GGCMs differ in model version, input data, management assumptions, parameterization, geographic distribution of cultivars, and selection of subroutines e.g. for the estimation of potential evapotranspiration or soil erosion. The analyses reveal long-term trends and inter-annual yield variability in the EPIC-based GGCMs to be highly sensitive to soil parameterization and crop management. Absolute yield levels as well depend not only on nutrient supply but also on the parameterization and distribution of crop cultivars. All GGCMs show an intermediate performance in reproducing reported absolute yield levels or inter-annual dynamics. Our findings suggest that studies focusing on the evaluation of differences in bio-physical routines may require further harmonization of input data and management assumptions in order to eliminate background noise resulting from differences in model setups. For agricultural impact assessments, employing a GGCM ensemble with its widely varying assumptions in setups appears the best solution for bracketing such uncertainties as long as comprehensive global datasets taking into account regional differences in crop management, cultivar distributions and coefficients for parameterizing agro-environmental processes are lacking. Finally, we recommend improvements in the documentation of setups and input data of GGCMs in order to allow for sound interpretability, comparability and reproducibility of published results.
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