Europe Wheat Crop Failures May Rise as Weather Gets More Extreme

Jun 10, 2014 5:30 pm ET

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Europe’s wheat farmers will face more drought, heat stress and excessive rain by 2060, which may increase crop failures, according to a study led by Miroslav Trnka at Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic.

Adverse weather events such as dry growing seasons or heat stress during flowering could rise “substantially” in coming decades compared to the 1981-2010 period, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found, based on an ensemble of climate models.

“We showed the occurrence of adverse conditions for 14 sites representing the main European wheat-growing areas might substantially increase by 2060 compared to the present,” the scientists wrote. “This is likely to result in more frequent crop failure across Europe.”

The European Union grows about 20 percent of the world’s wheat. Barley and wheat yields in Europe could fall more than 20 percent by 2040 due to expected climate warming of about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a Stanford University study published last month found.

For Madrid, Athens and the Spanish city of Seville, drought stress will probably increase throughout the growing season by 2060, the study found. Heat stress during wheat flowering is expected to occur more often in Debrecen in Hungary and Montagnano in Italy.

Severe winter frost without snow cover as well as lodging, or bending over of grain stalks, may increase in Jyvaskyla in Finland and Uppsala in Sweden. Water logging and adverse weather during sowing are seen becoming more common for the Dutch town of Wageningen and Rothamsted in the U.K., the study showed.

Wheat Varieties

“Modeling predicts an increase in probability of adverse weather events, which may affect wheat production across Europe,” Mikhail Semenov, one of the study’s lead scientists, was cited as saying in a news release from the U.K.’s Rothamsted Research.

Late-maturing wheat varieties face a greater probability of one or more adverse events than early varieties for all studied locations, the researchers found.

“Adaptation strategies will be region specific,” Semenov said. “Whereas in some regions, it is important to breed cultivars tolerant to heat stress, in other regions adaptation should focus on water logging, lodging or field accessibility.”