Climate Change

European wheat not prepared for climate change

A group of European researchers found that the current breeding programmes and cultivar selection practices are not sufficiently resilient to the changing climate

By SA Gayatri
Published: Thursday 27 December 2018
Credit: Getty Images

The production of wheat, a crop sensitive to weather, may be influenced by climate change. The warming of the climate and extreme temperatures can weaken the global food security if major crops like wheat is not resilient enough or if we are not prepared with surplus amount.

A group of European researchers have found that the current breeding programmes and cultivar selection practices are not sufficiently resilient to climate change.

A recently published paper in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), says that the current breeding programmes do not prepare for variability and uncertainty in the climate.

Also, the range of reaction of wheat crop to environmental changes, i.e. response diversity on farmers’ fields in most of the European countries has worsened in last five to fifteen years, varying from country to country.

The researchers predict that the greater variability and extremeness of local weather conditions will lead to reduced yields in wheat and increased yield variability.

They say that decreased yields are not helpful to food security, but high yield variability is also a problem as it can lead to a market with greater supposition and no fluctuation in the price. This would threaten access to food by the poor, furthering political instability and migration.

European scenario

The researchers assessed thousands of yield observations of wheat cultivars in nine European countries for the different eligible cultivars that respond to weather.

The researchers were able to identify variation of wheat response diversity on farmers’ fields and linked it to climate resilience.

The responses of all cultivars to different weather conditions were similar within northern and central Europe. The durum wheat showed similar results in southern Europe. However, there were serious gaps in wheat resilience across Europe, particularly in respect to the yield performance under abundant rain.

This lack of diversity in the response to extreme weather conditions can pose a threat with regard to food security. Hence, farmers, breeders and traders in seeds and grains should pay more attention towards diversity of grown cultivars.

Indian scenario

research published in the Journal of Agrometerology in 2018, states that climate change has hastened the reproductive changes (anthesis and maturity) and decreased yield in all the scenarios of wheat production.

The impact was highest when the days to anthesis and days to maturity were projected to reduce by 22 days and 24 days, also decreasing the grain yield by 61 per cent.

According to a study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, climate change can reduce wheat yields by 6-23 per cent by 2050, and 15-25 per cent by 2080.

This is an alarming situation stressing on the need for new crop climate resilient farming in mainstream agricultural practices.

Climate resilience is necessary

Taking the European study into account again, heat stress rather than drought sensitivity appears to be a limiting factor for adaptation of wheat to climate change in Europe.

The researchers suggest that the need for climate resilience of staple crops must be better articulated. Increased awareness could lend support to policies framed around resilience through extensive research and breeding programmes, incentives and regulation.

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