Higher temperatures expected by midcentury increase the risk of shocks to crop production, while the interconnected nature of the current global food system functions to spread the impact of localized production shocks throughout the world. In this study, we analyze the global potential impact of a present-day event of equivalent magnitude to the US Dust Bowl, modeling the ways in which a sudden decline in US wheat production could cascade through the global network of agricultural trade. We use observations of country-level production, reserves, and trade data in a Food Shock Cascade model to explore trade adjustments and country-level inventory changes in response to a major, multiyear production decline. We find that a 4-year decline in wheat production of the same proportional magnitude as occurred during the Dust Bowl greatly reduces both wheat supply and reserves in the United States and propagates through the global trade network. By year 4 of the event, US wheat exports fall from 90.5 trillion kcal before the drought to 48 trillion to 52 trillion kcal, and the United States exhausts 94% of its reserves. As a result of reduced US exports, other countries meet their needs by leveraging their own reserves, leading to a 31% decline in wheat reserves globally. These findings demonstrate that an extreme production decline would lead to substantial supply shortfalls in both the United States and in other countries, where impacts outside the United States strongly depend on a country’s reserves and on its relative position in the global trade network.

Heslin Alison, Puma Michael J., Marchand Philippe, Carr Joel A., Dell’Angelo Jampel, D’Odorico Paolo, Gephart Jessica A., Kummu Matti, Porkka Miina, Rulli Maria Cristina, Seekell David A., Suweis Samir, Tavoni Alessandro

Published in: Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 20 March 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2020.00026

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