Interactions Between Changing Climate and Technological Innovations in Agricultural Decision Making: Implications for Land Use and Sustainability

Agriculture plays a central role in global food production and food security, and is among the societal sectors most vulnerable to climate variability and change. A marked increase in rainfall since the 1970s has contributed to major changes in land use in the Pampas of Argentina, the focus of this study: continuous cropping has widely replaced ecologically-sound agriculture-pasture rotations. Nevertheless, production systems that evolved partly in response to increased rainfall may not be viable if (as is entirely possible) climate reverts to a drier epoch. As there is much uncertainty about projected paths of future climate, particularly on regional scales and short time horizons (25-30 years hence), this project will explore various plausible climate scenarios to anticipate potential impacts on agricultural systems together with advances in agricultural technology that may affect productivity and vulnerability to climate. The central goal of this study is to improve understanding of linkages between agricultural ecosystems, uncertain decadal climate trajectories, technological innovations that decrease vulnerability to climate stresses, human decision-making, and land use and tenure changes over periods of a few decades. To achieve this goal, the investigators will build scenarios of inter-decadal climate variability; assess the impacts of climate variability on current and adapted agricultural production systems; simulate biological and economic effects of genetically-improved crops tolerant to drought stress; study the diffusion of this technological innovation; (5) develop models of individual decision-making and use these models to assess emerging regional-scale patterns of land use and land tenure and their implications for sustainability of production systems. Agricultural production involves real-world decisions with important economic consequences, and thus is a useful test bed to understand decision-making in complex natural-human systems. This project will develop new insights on decision-making processes in agriculture, including individual and group learning, and adaptation to plausible climate changes. On a broader scale, the research will implement tools to assess the regional implications of climate change in the next 25-30 years, a scale relevant to resource management, and infrastructure and investment planning. Climate fluctuations will be explored in the context of important technological changes that may shape agriculture over the next decades. One highlight of the project is the active involvement of farmers and operational producers of climate information (the Argentine Met Service) that guarantee the relevance of the research, facilitate and demand outreach, and ensures stakeholders ownership of the process. Finally, similarity in experienced climate fluctuations, production scale, technology and crops grown, and land tenure regimes of the Pampas to those in the US Midwest suggest a broader relevance of the projects results.