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Land-surface initialisation improves seasonal climate prediction skill for maize yield forecast

Abstract: 
Seasonal crop yield forecasting represents an important source of information to maintain market stability, minimise socio-economic impacts of crop losses and guarantee humanitarian food assistance, while it fosters the use of climate information favouring adaptation strategies. As climate variability and extremes have significant influence on agricultural production, the early prediction of severe weather events and unfavourable conditions can contribute to the mitigation of adverse effects. Seasonal climate forecasts provide additional value for agricultural applications in several regions of the world. However, they currently play a very limited role in supporting agricultural decisions in Europe, mainly due to the poor skill of relevant surface variables. Here we show how a combined stress index (CSI), considering both drought and heat stress in summer, can predict maize yield in Europe and how landsurface initialised seasonal climate forecasts can be used to predict it. The CSI explains on average nearly 53% of the inter-annual maize yield variability under observed climate conditions and shows how concurrent heat stress and drought events have influenced recent yield anomalies. Seasonal climate forecast initialised with realistic land-surface achieves better (and marginally useful) skill in predicting the CSI than with climatological land-surface initialisation in south-eastern Europe, part of central Europe, France and Italy.