Global climate change is resulting in more frequent and more damaging extreme events affecting the performance of production systems. It is imperative to develop good season-specific crop management recommendations to help farmers to improve their adaptive capacity to a changing climate one season at a time.
We aimed to evaluate the skill of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) seasonal precipitation forecasts and the interaction between the forecasted seasonal precipitation scenarios and management practices for rainfed soybean cropping systems using a crop simulation model.
We used a crop simulation model (CROPGRO-Soybean) coupled with weather data to assess the potential use of the IRI seasonal precipitation forecasts as a tool to optimize season-specific management strategies for rainfed soybean in Uruguay. We used a total of 620–668 IRI seasonal precipitation forecasts released from 2003 to 2016 for each of the five weather stations located in the main soybean producing area. The analysis was performed for two soybean cropping systems (i.e., sown as a single crop or as double-cropped soybean), for which we considered combinations of sowing dates and maturity groups (11 sowing dates × 3 maturity groups combinations for each soybean cropping system).
The IRI seasonal precipitation forecasts were able to successfully forecast below-normal precipitation scenarios in 77% of the total predictions developed for this scenario considering all weather stations during the study period (2003–2016), while it was less accurate in forecasting above-normal precipitation scenarios (60% of success). We found that earlier sowing dates were a better strategy for years when an above-normal precipitation forecast was released for the December–January-February period (4.7 Mg ha−1 average seed yield). In contrast, delayed sowing dates were more appropriate for below-normal precipitation forecasts (3.7 Mg ha−1 average seed yield). Applying season-specific management practices farmers could potentially increase their soybean yields by up to 0.6 and 1.6 Mg ha−1, in years with below- or above-normal forecasted precipitations, respectively. The benefit of season-specific management will depend on the interaction among all management practices, the effective capacity of farmers to implement it, and the risk profile the farmer adopts and it is exposed to.
Here we built a novel approach to assess the impact of considering seasonal precipitation forecasts for optimizing crop production. This assessment provided insights on how farmers can use seasonal precipitation forecasts to optimize rainfed soybean yield for a specific cropping season.