Water-limited crop yield

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-181-en
Also known as: CLIM 032
Created 20 Dec 2016 Published 20 Dec 2016 Last modified 20 Dec 2016
Yields of several rainfed crops are levelling off (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 changes are attributed partly to observed climate change, in particular warming. Extreme climatic events, including droughts and heat waves, have negatively affected crop productivity in Europe during the first decade of the 21st century. Future climate change could lead to both decreases and increases in average yield, depending on the crop type and the climatic and management conditions in the region. There is a general pattern of projected increases in productivity in northern Europe and reductions in southern Europe, but with differences between crop types. Projected increases in extreme climatic events are expected to increase crop yield variability and to lead to yield reductions in the future throughout Europe.

Key messages

  • Yields of several rainfed crops are levelling off (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 changes are attributed partly to observed climate change, in particular warming.
  • Extreme climatic events, including droughts and heat waves, have negatively affected crop productivity in Europe during the first decade of the 21st century.
  • Future climate change could lead to both decreases and increases in average yield, depending on the crop type and the climatic and management conditions in the region. There is a general pattern of projected increases in productivity in northern Europe and reductions in southern Europe, but with differences between crop types.
  • Projected increases in extreme climatic events are expected to increase crop yield variability and to lead to yield reductions in the future throughout Europe.

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

Projected change in mean water-limited yield of winter wheat by 2030

Note: Simulated change in mean water-limited crop yield of winter wheat between the baseline period around year 2000 and 2030. The four simulations are a combination of two climate models (HadGEM2 and MIROC, taken from CMIP5 archive and bias-corrected by the ISI-MIP project), and the crop model WOFOST at 25 km spatial resolution, with and without taking into account the effect of CO2 fertilization. Crop variety and agro-management practice have been kept constant. For each time horizon of 2000 and 2030, a 30-year averaging period has been considered. Red colours show a reduction in winter wheat yield, while green colours indicate an increase in crop productivity in the given period as a response to the climate signal of each climate scenario (Araujo Enciso et al., 2014).

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Projected changes in water-limited crop yield

Note: This map provides an aggregated picture of expected changes in crop yields across Europe for the 2050s (compared with 1961–1990). The simulations by the ClimateCrop model are based on an ensemble of 12 GCMs under the A1B emission scenario. They include effects of changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 concentration on crop yields of three main crops assuming current irrigated area.

Data source:
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Probability of the occurrence of adverse agroclimatic conditions for wheat under baseline and projected climate

Note: This map compares the probability that at least one out of 11 types of adverse agroclimatic conditions occurs between sowing and majority of wheat (medium-ripening cultivar) under baseline climate (1981, black bar) and projected climate (2060, colored box). Red boxes indicate that at least 14 out of the 16 CMIP5 models show an increased probability of adverse conditions, and orange boxes indicate that at least 9 out of 16 models show an increased probability.

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Past trends

A global analysis of yields of cereal crops (wheat, maize and barley) has shown that increasing mean temperatures in recent decades have had a negative effect on yield [i]. Similar effects have been observed for various countries in Europe [ii]. Increasing temperatures have been identified as one of the main causes of the lack of yield increase in winter wheat in France, despite improvements in crop breeding [iii]. Grain yields in southern Europe seem to have been levelling off. There is also a tendency for an increasing variability of grain yields in France and Italy, linked to the occurrence of heat waves and droughts [iv]. Similar effects of heat haves and droughts have been observed globally, whereas floods and intense rainfall have not been seen to affect overall crop production [v]. In Italy and southern-central Europe, the potential crop yields of potato, wheat, maize and barley significantly decreased over the time period 1976–2005 owing to temperature and radiation change effects [vi]. In north-east Spain, grape yield has been declining because of increasing water deficits since the 1960s [vii]. Droughts and heat waves affected the crop production in large areas of southern and central Europe in 2003 and 2007 [viii]. An increase in climate-induced variability in maize yield has been observed over recent decades in France [ix].

Climate change has also shown positive effects on yields. Potato and sugar beet have responded positively to increasing temperatures through an increase in yields, most likely due to the longer growing seasons [x]. In Scotland, increasing temperatures are estimated to have increased the potential potato yield by up to 39 % over the period 1960–2006 [xi]. In parts of the UK and parts of northern-central Europe, the yield potential of wheat, sugar beet and maize has increased since 1976 [xii]. Grain yields in maize have been steadily increasing in northern Europe, most likely linked to the warmer climate [xiii].

Projections

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 [xiv]. A broad analysis of climate change scenarios for agricultural productivity in Europe has provided a clear picture of deterioration of agroclimatic conditions through increased drought stress and a shortening of the active growing season across large parts of southern and central Europe [xv]. Other studies suggest 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 [xvi].

Dynamic crop models may be used to evaluate the effect of climate change on crop production, provided that the model is tested for the accuracy of its response to various climate change factors [xvii]. Figure 1 shows projected changes in water-limited winter wheat yields in Europe for the 2030s (compared with the 2000s) for climate projections from two different climate models (HadGEM2-ES) and MIROC-ESM-CHEM) using the WOFOST crop model. The top row of the map shows the results when the CO2 concentration is assumed to be that of the 2000s, whereas the bottom row shows the results when the effect of CO2 fertilisation on crop growth was simulated. When no CO2 fertilisation effect is taken into account, simulations using both climate models show a decrease in wheat yields over most of Europe, with the exception of some northern areas. When the CO2 fertilisation effect is taken into account, model simulations generally show a yield increase in most areas, with the notable exception of central Europe for one climate model (HadGEM2). The simulated moderate yield reduction over central Europe for this model indicates that increased CO2 does not compensate for unfavourable climatic conditions, such as prolonged and more intense droughts. These simulations did not include adaptations to climate change, such as changes in crop species and crop management, owing to the inherent complexity of agricultural systems. Therefore, the projected yields in 2030 may be slightly underestimated. A study on the potential effectiveness by 2040 of adaptation by farmers in southern and central Europe suggests that the adaptation potential to future warming is large for maize but limited for wheat and barley [xviii].

Future crop yield developments are subject to considerable uncertainty, in particular with regard to climate projections and the magnitude of CO2 fertilisation effects in practice. For example, Figure 1 does not consider all of the main sources of uncertainty, as only two climate models and one crop model have been used to produce the simulations. A wider variation would have been found if more climate model projections and more crop models had been used. A large proportion of the uncertainty in climate change impact projections for crop yields are the result of variations among different crop models rather than the variations among the downscaled climate projections [xix]. Uncertainties in simulated impacts increase with higher CO2 concentrations and associated warming.

Figure 2 provides an aggregated picture of the expected changes in crop yields across Europe by considering three crops, an ensemble of 12 GCMs and the current irrigated area. These estimates include the effects of changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 concentration on crop yield. The regional pattern of projected impacts is clear, generally showing improved conditions in northern Europe and worse conditions in southern Europe.

Despite the above-mentioned uncertainties, there is a clear indication of deteriorating agroclimatic conditions in terms of increased drought stress and a shortening of the active growing season in central and southern Europe [xx]. There is a risk of an increasing number of extremely unfavourable years, which might lead to higher interannual variability in crop yield and constitute a challenge for proper crop management. Some of the climate-related risk factors, such as high temperature stress, flooding and adverse sowing and harvesting conditions, are included only to a limited extent in current crop models, such as those used for the projections in Figure 1. Figure 3 shows that the frequency of adverse agroclimatic conditions for wheat is projected to increase substantially across Europe under climate change, with the largest risks generally experienced in southern parts of Europe. These increases in extreme events may severely restrict the efficiency of adaptations to climate change, including the shifting of wheat production to other regions as the risk of adverse events beyond the key wheat-growing areas increases even more [xxi].



[i] David B Lobell and Christopher B Field, ‘Global Scale Climate–crop Yield Relationships and the Impacts of Recent Warming’,Environmental Research Letters 2 (March 2007): 014002, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002.

[ii] 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.

[iii] 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.

[iv] 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.

[v] Corey Lesk, Pedram Rowhani, and Navin Ramankutty, ‘Influence of Extreme Weather Disasters on Global Crop Production’,Nature 529, no. 7584 (7 January 2016): 84–87, doi:10.1038/nature16467.

[vi] I. Supit et al., ‘Recent Changes in the Climatic Yield Potential of Various Crops in Europe’,Agricultural Systems 103, no. 9 (November 2010): 683–94, doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2010.08.009.

[vii] Josep Odó Camps and María Concepción Ramos, ‘Grape Harvest and Yield Responses to Inter-Annual Changes in Temperature and Precipitation in an Area of North-East Spain with a Mediterranean Climate’,International Journal of Biometeorology 56, no. 5 (September 2012): 853–64, doi:10.1007/s00484-011-0489-3.

[viii] 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.

[ix] 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.

[x] Peltonen-Sainio et al., ‘Coincidence of Variation in Yield and Climate in Europe’; Peltonen-Sainio, Jauhiainen, and Hakala, ‘Crop Responses to Temperature and Precipitation according to Long-Term Multi-Location Trials at High-Latitude Conditions’.

[xi] 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.

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

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

[xiv] 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.

[xv] 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.

[xvi] 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; Miroslav Trnka et al., ‘Adverse Weather Conditions for European Wheat Production Will Become More Frequent with Climate Change’,Nature Climate Change 4, no. 7 (25 May 2014): 637–43, doi:10.1038/nclimate2242.

[xvii] F. Ewert et al., ‘Crop Modelling for Integrated Assessment of Risk to Food Production from Climate Change’,Environmental Modelling & Software 72 (December 2015): 287–303, doi:10.1016/j.envsoft.2014.12.003.

[xviii] Frances C. Moore and David B. Lobell, ‘Adaptation Potential of European Agriculture in Response to Climate Change’,Nature Climate Change 4, no. 7 (18 May 2014): 610–14, doi:10.1038/nclimate2228.

[xix] S. Asseng et al., ‘Uncertainty in Simulating Wheat Yields under Climate Change’,Nature Climate Change 3, no. 9 (9 June 2013): 827–32, doi:10.1038/nclimate1916.

[xx] Trnka et al., ‘Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe under Climate Change’.

[xxi] Trnka et al., ‘Adverse Weather Conditions for European Wheat Production Will Become More Frequent with Climate Change’; Miroslav Trnka, Petr Hlavinka, and Mikhail A. Semenov, ‘Adaptation Options for Wheat in Europe Will Be Limited by Increased Adverse Weather Events under Climate Change’,Journal of The Royal Society Interface 12, no. 112 (6 November 2015): 20150721, doi:10.1098/rsif.2015.0721.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Projected changes in water-limited yield of winter wheat
  • Projected changes in water-limited crop yield
  • Probability of the occurrence of adverse agroclimatic conditions for wheat under baseline and projected climate

Units

  • Percentage (%)
  • Probability (unitless)

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission (EC) presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package. This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU Adaptation Strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe.

One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which will be achieved by bridging the knowledge gap and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the EC and the EEA to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies.

Further objectives include Promoting adaptation in key vulnerablesectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies and Promoting action by Member States. Most EU Member States have already adopted national adaptation strategies and many have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation. The EC also supports adaptation in cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.

In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.

Targets

No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives in the future. This web portal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
  • EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform - basic regulations
    References to climate change particularly in Regulation 1307/2013 (direct payments for farmers), Regulation 1306/2013 (so-called horizontal issues such as funding and controls: Articles 12 and 93, Annex I) and Regulation 1305/2013 (rural development: Articles 5, 7, 15, 28, 34, 35, 53 and 55).

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The change in mean water-limited crop yield of winter wheat between the baseline period centred around year 2000 and a future period centred around 2030 has been estimated using four simulations (combination of two climate models HadGEM2 and MIROC and the crop model WOFOST at 25 km spatial resolution), with and without taking into account the effect of CO2 fertilization. Crop variety and agro-management practice have been kept constant.

The mean relative changes in water-limited crop yield are simulated by the ClimateCrop model for the 2050s compared with 1961–1990 for 12 different climate model projections under the A1B emission scenario. The ClimateCrop model was applied to explore the combined effects of projected changes in temperature, rainfall and CO2 concentration across Europe, considering effects of adaptation. The simulation assumes that the irrigated area remains constant, and the results combine the response of the key crops wheat, maize and soybean, weighted by their current distribution.

The frequency of adverse agroclimatic conditions for wheat is projected using the probability that at least one out of 11 types of adverse agroclimatic conditions occurs between sowing and majority of wheat (medium-ripening cultivar) under baseline climate and projected climate.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

Crop yield and crop requirements for irrigation are affected not only by climate change, but also by management and a range of socio-economic factors. The effects of climate change on these factors therefore have to be estimated indirectly using agrometeorological indicators and through statistical analyses of the interaction between climatic variables and factors such as crop yield.

The projections of climate change impacts and adaptation in agriculture rely heavily on modelling, and it needs to be recognised that there is often a chain of uncertainty involved in the projections, which range from emissions scenarios, through climate modelling and downscaling, to assessments of impacts using an impact model. The extent of all these uncertainties is rarely quantified, even though some studies have assessed uncertainties related to individual components. The crop modelling community has only recently started addressing uncertainties related to modelling impacts of climate change on crop yield and the effect of possible adaptation options. Recently, the effects of extreme climate events have also been included in impact assessments, but other effects such as those related to biotic hazards (e.g. pests and diseases) still need to be explored.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100