Climate is the average of the weather conditions in a specific area, which affects all parts of the ecosystem. Forests are being cut down and converted into living societies as a result of industrialization and urbanization. This change in the ecosystem disrupts the ecosystem’s balance, from decomposers to producers and consumers.
Wheat yields in the United Kingdom have been relatively resistant to varying weather conditions over the last 30 years. According to scientists, the future security of our most widely grown food crop is uncertain due to the increasing frequency of extreme wet and dry conditions caused by climate change.
Since 1990, a research team from the University of Oxford, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), the Met Office, and Bristol University has conducted an in-depth analysis of wheat yields and simultaneous meteorological conditions across the country’s main agricultural areas. They also looked into the impact of projected climate change on production in the coming decades.
The study found there has been a substantial resilience of UK yields to single extreme weather events such as low or high rainfall or temperature, through farmers’ effective crop management and wheat’s ability to tolerate a range of climatic conditions.
Our research shows that, on average, warmer temperatures are likely to have generally positive impacts on yields in key UK wheat-growing regions. However, multiple extreme weather events, such as intense thunderstorms or prolonged drought, may occur over the course of a year, increasing uncertainty about future wheat yields.Dr. Louise Slater
But the researchers also observed that, where some combinations of extreme weather occurred over the course of a growing season there were significant negative impacts on production. For example, in 2020, torrential autumn rain hampered sowing of crops, an exceptionally dry spring affected plant growth and, finally, heavy downpours in August created very challenging harvesting conditions, resulting in some of the UK’s poorest wheat yields for decades.
Professor Richard Pywell of UKCEH, a co-author of the study, says: “Until now, farmers have largely been able to compensate for adverse weather conditions by changing when they sow or harvest crops, or by altering the timing and amount of fungicide, pesticide or fertilizer that they apply to fields.
“However, climate change will push the boundaries of what can be achieved though crop management, and it could become increasingly difficult for farmers to deal with the impacts of more frequent extreme weather events. This could affect the quality and quantity of crops, and therefore food production, in the UK.”
The researchers used cutting-edge high-resolution climate projections up to 2080 to assess how future temperature and rainfall changes under a high-emissions scenario might affect key crop growth stages in major wheat-producing regions in Eastern and Southern Britain.
They discovered that significantly warmer winter temperatures could offset the negative effects of rising rainfall from October to April, while warmer temperatures and drier conditions in June and July would be generally beneficial to yields.
“Our research shows that, on average, warmer temperatures are likely to have generally positive impacts on yields in key UK wheat-growing regions,” says Dr. Louise Slater of the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. However, multiple extreme weather events, such as intense thunderstorms or prolonged drought, may occur over the course of a year, increasing uncertainty about future wheat yields.”
Dr. Chris Huntingford, a UKCEH climate scientist and co-author of the study, adds, “Over the last decade, we have already seen an increase in both extremely dry and wet spells, depending on the season, and this pattern is expected to continue. Even with large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will still generate weather conditions outside those in which our intensive agricultural systems have developed.”