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How will the weather affect Europe's ability to grow wheat?

Shifting wheat production to different regions in Europe may not be possible by the end of the century, as exposure to adverse weather in European arable farming areas is set to increase, scientists are warning.



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In a modelling study, a group of international scientists, including Rothamsted Research, explored how climate change will alter the probability of adverse weather events in Europe by the end of the century. The study focused on wheat-producing areas and examined how wheat cultivation adaptation strategies may be affected under the predicted scenarios.

 

By using climate scenarios based on low and high climate sensitivity global climate models, the researchers showed the probability of 11 adverse weather events with the potential to significantly reduce wheat yield will increase markedly across all of Europe. Wheat cultivation areas in particular, will be exposed to significant higher incidents of high temperatures, severe droughts and field inaccessibility.

 

Adaptation strategies

One of the adaptation strategies for reducing the risk of wheat yield losses due to adverse weather is stress avoidance through shifts in either time crops (when crops flower or mature) or in space - the area of cultivation. Avoidance in time could be achieved by using early ripening varieties to escape heat or drought stress but if this strategy were to be adopted with current varieties crops would intercept less global radiation, which in turn would result in lower yields.

 

Avoidance in space could be achieved by shifting wheat production to new growing areas less endangered by the projected increase in adverse events. However, the increase in the adverse event frequency over the entire available area of arable land in Europe is more than three-fold compared to two-fold increase over currently-used wheat-growing areas, say the scientists. So shifting wheat production to areas not currently used for wheat would lead to even higher probability of adverse weather.

 

Potentially dangerous

Dr Mikhail Semenov of Rothamsted Research and one of the lead scientists of the study says: “In 2015, average global temperature increase has exceeded 1degC for the first time; this is halfway towards the 2degC threshold that could result in potentially dangerous climate change.

 

"Understanding future risks to wheat production in Europe is critically important for development of robust adaptation strategies. Our research showed that adaptation options for wheat could be limited due to a substantial increase in probability and magnitude of adverse weather events in Europe under climate change”.

 

 


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