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Water-limited crop productivity (CLIM 032) - Assessment published Aug 2014

Indicator Assessment Created 05 Aug 2014 Published 05 Aug 2014 Last modified 05 Aug 2014, 03:28 PM

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Agriculture Agriculture

climate change | agriculture | projection | crop yield
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 032
Temporal coverage:
1961-1990, 2000, 2020, 2031-2060
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Aserbaidschan, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgien, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Bulgarien, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Deutschland, Dänemark, Estland, Estonia, Finland, Finnland, France, Frankreich, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Griechenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Irland, Italien, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244/99), Latvia, Lettland, Liechtenstein, Litauen, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Luxemburg, Macedonia (FYR), Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Niederlande, Norway, Norwegen, Poland, Polen, Portugal, Romania, Rumänien, Russia, Russland, San Marino, Schweden, Schweiz, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Slowakei, Slowenien, Spain, Spanien, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Ungarn, United Kingdom, Großbritannien, Zypern, Österreich

Key policy question: How is climate change affecting the water-limited productivity of agricultural crops across Europe?

Key messages

  • Yields of several crops are stagnating (e.g. wheat in some European countries) or decreasing (e.g. grapes in Spain), whereas yields of other crops (e.g. maize in northern Europe) are increasing. These effects are attributed partly due to observed climate change, in particular warming.
  • Extreme climatic events, including droughts and heat waves, have negatively affected crop productivity during the first decade of the 21st century. Projected increases in extreme climatic events are expected to further increase yield variability in the future.
  • Crop yields are affected by the combined effects of changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric CO2 concentration. Future climate change can lead to both decreases and increases in yield, depending on the crop type and the climatic and management conditions in the region.

Projected changes in effective solar radiation from two climate models

Note: The map shows the mean changes in effective solar radiation (MJ m-2), which is an indicator for water-limited crop productivity, for the period 2031–2050 compared with 1975–1994 for the RACMO (KNMI) and HadRCM3 (Hadley Centre.HC) projections under the A1B emission scenario.

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Projected changes in water-limited crop yield

Note: This figure shows the mean relative changes in water-limited crop yield simulated by the ClimateCrop model for the 2050s compared with 1961–1990 for 12 different climate models projections under the A1B emission scenario.

Data source:
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Simulated change in water-limited wheat production

Note: The figure shows the simulated change in water-limited wheat production for 2030 compared with 2000 for the A1B emission scenario using a cold (ECHAM5) (left) and a warm (HADCM3) (right) climate change projection. The simulation was performed on a 25x25 km grid (assuming current area of wheat cropping) but the results are presented here at the NUTS-2 level.

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Key assessment

Past trends

A global analysis of yields of cereal crops (wheat, maize and barley) has shown that increasing mean temperatures in recent decades had a negative effect on yield [i]. Similar effects have been observed for various countries in Europe. Increasing temperatures have been identified as one of the main causes for the lack of yield increase of winter wheat in France despite improvements in crop breeding [ii]. Grain yields in southern Europe seem to have been stagnating. There is also a tendency for increasing variability of grain yields in France and Italy, linked to occurrence of heat waves and droughts [iii]. In Italy and southern central Europe, the potential crop yields of potato, wheat, maize, and barley significantly decreased over the time period 1976-2005 due to temperature and radiation change effects [iv]. Droughts and heat waves affected the crop production in large areas of southern and central Europe in 2003 and 2007 [v]. An increase of climate-induced variability in maize yield over recent decades was observed in France [vi].

Climate change also showed positive effects on yields. Potato and sugar beet have responded positively to the increasing temperatures by increasing yields, most likely due to longer growing seasons [vii]. In Scotland, increasing temperatures have increased the potential potato yield by up to 39% over the period 1960-2006 [viii]. In parts of the UK and parts of northern central Europe, the yield potential of wheat, sugar beet and maize increased since 1976 [ix]. Grain yields in maize have been steadily increasing in northern Europe [x].


The impact of future changes in climate on crop yield depends on the characteristics of the climatic change within a region as well as on a combination of other environmental, economic, technological and management factors [xi]. The index of effective solar radiation sum was developed as a proxy for the effects of environmental changes on crop productivity. This index estimates the potential for rain-fed crop production by integrating the daily solar radiation on those days where neither temperature nor soil moisture is limiting for growth assuming a standard soil across the entire continent. The effects of enhanced atmospheric CO2 levels on crop productivity are not considered [xii].

Figure 1 shows the projected changes in effective radiation sum for the 2040s for climate projections from two different climate models. Both projections show reduced production potential in large parts of southern Europe and increases in the far north, but they differ substantially for areas in-between. A broader analysis of climate change scenarios for agricultural productivity in Europe has provided a clear picture of deterioration of agro-climatic conditions from increased drought stress and a shortening of active growing season across large parts of southern and central Europe [xiii]. Another study suggests the risk of an increasing number of unfavourable years for agricultural production in many European climatic zones, limiting winter crop expansion and increasing the risk of cereal yield loss [xiv].

The Figure 2 shows projected crop yield changes based on the ClimateCrop model, which estimates the combined effects of projected changes in temperature, rainfall as well as CO2 concentration across Europe, considering certain management changes thus incorporating effects of adaptation [xv]. Figure 2 shows the same overall picture as in Figure 1 of decreases in yields along the Mediterranean and large increases in Scandinavia. Small changes in crop yields are projected throughout large parts of western and central Europe.

Figure 3 shows changes in water-limited wheat production in Europe by 2030 for climate projections from two different climate models, including also the effects of enhanced CO2 concentrations [xvi]. The results indicate that different climate models can lead to large differences in projected impacts, with both yield increases and decreases possible in northern and southern Europe. The same study shows large differences in simulated yield changes between different crops, climate model projections and time horizons. These model estimates do not consider adaptation to climate change, such as changes in crop species and varieties and changes in crop management. A study on the potential effectiveness of adaptation by farmers in southern and central Europe by 2040 suggests that the adaptation potential to future warming is large for maize but limited for wheat and barley [xvii].

[i] David B. Lobell and Christopher B. Field, ‘Global Scale Climate - Crop Yield Relationships and the Impacts of Recent Warming’,Environmental Research Letters 2, no. 1 (March 2007), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002.

[ii] Nadine Brisson et al., ‘Why Are Wheat Yields Stagnating in Europe? A Comprehensive Data Analysis for France’,Field Crops Research 119, no. 1 (9 October 2010): 201–12, doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2010.07.012.

[iii] J.E. Olesen et al., ‘Impacts and Adaptation of European Crop Production Systems to Climate Change’,European Journal of Agronomy 34, no. 2 (February 2011): 96–112, doi:10.1016/j.eja.2010.11.003.

[iv] Supit et al., ‘Recent Changes in the Climatic Yield Potential of Various Crops in Europe’,Agricultural Systems 103, no. 9 (2010): 683–94.

[v] Pirjo Peltonen-Sainio et al., ‘Coincidence of Variation in Yield and Climate in Europe’,Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 139, no. 4 (December 2010): 483–89, doi:10.1016/j.agee.2010.09.006.

[vi] Ed Hawkins et al., ‘Increasing Influence of Heat Stress on French Maize Yields from the 1960s to the 2030s’,Global Change Biology 19, no. 3 (1 March 2013): 937–47, doi:10.1111/gcb.12069.

[vii] Peltonen-Sainio et al., ‘Coincidence of Variation in Yield and Climate in Europe’; P. Peltonen-Sainio, L. Jauhiainen, and K. Hakala, ‘Crop Responses to Temperature and Precipitation according to Long-Term Multi-Location Trials at High-Latitude Conditions’,The Journal of Agricultural Science 149, no. 01 (2011): 49–62, doi:10.1017/S0021859610000791.

[viii] Peter J. Gregory and Bruce Marshall, ‘Attribution of Climate Change: A Methodology to Estimate the Potential Contribution to Increases in Potato Yield in Scotland since 1960’,Global Change Biology 18, no. 4 (1 April 2012): 1372–88, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02601.x.

[ix] Supit et al., ‘Recent Changes in the Climatic Yield Potential of Various Crops in Europe’.

[x] Olesen et al., ‘Impacts and Adaptation of European Crop Production Systems to Climate Change’.

[xi] P. Reidsma et al., ‘Adaptation to Climate Change and Climate Variability in European Agriculture: The Importance of Farm Level Responses’,European Journal of Agronomy 32, no. 1 (Enero 2010): 91–102, doi:10.1016/j.eja.2009.06.003.

[xii] M Trnka et al., ‘Expected Changes in Agroclimatic Conditions in Central Europe’,Climatic Change 108 (5 March 2011): 261–89, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0025-9.

[xiii] M. Trnka et al., ‘Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe under Climate Change’,Global Change Biology 17, no. 7 (1 July 2011): 2298–2318, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02396.x.

[xiv] Peltonen-Sainio, Jauhiainen, and Hakala, ‘Crop Responses to Temperature and Precipitation according to Long-Term Multi-Location Trials at High-Latitude Conditions’; R. Rötter et al., ‘Crop-Climate Models Need an Overhaul’,Nature Climate Change 1 (2011): 175–77, doi:10.1038/nclimate1152.

[xv] Ana Iglesias, Sonia Quiroga, and Agustin Diz, ‘Looking into the Future of Agriculture in a Changing Climate’,European Review of Agricultural Economics 38, no. 3 (2011): 427–47, doi:10.1093/erae/jbr037.

[xvi] M. Donatelli et al.,Assessing Agriculture Vulnerabilities for the Design of Effective Measures for Adaption to Climate Change (AVEMAC Project), EUR 25249 (Luxembourg: European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2012),; M. Donatelli et al., ‘Estimating Impact Assessment and Adaptation Strategies under Climate Change Scenarios for Crops at EU27 Scale’ (presented at the 2012 International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software Managing Resources of a Limited Planet, Sixth Biennial Meeting, Leipzig, 2012),

[xvii] Frances C. Moore and David B. Lobell, ‘Adaptation Potential of European Agriculture in Response to Climate Change’,Nature Climate Change advance online publication (18 May 2014), doi:10.1038/nclimate2228.W

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


EEA Management Plan

2014 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years in October-December (Q4)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100