Topographic Impacts on Wheat Yields under Climate Change: Two Contrasted Case Studies in Europe

Theoretical & Applied Climatology, Volume 99, Numbers 1-2 / January, 2010

R. M. Ferrara , P. Trevisiol , M. Acutis , G. Rana , G. M. Richter, and N. Baggaley

“The topography of hilly landscapes modifies crop environment changing the fluxes of water and energy, increasing risk in these vulnerable agriculture systems, which could become more accentuated under climate change (drought, increased variability of rainfall). In order to quantify how wheat production in hilly terrain will be affected by future climate, a newly developed and calibrated micro-meteorological model for hilly terrain was linked to a crop growth simulation model to analyse impact scenarios for different European regions. Distributions of yield and growing length of rainfed winter wheat and durum wheat were generated as probabilistic indices from baseline and low (B2) and high (A2) emission climate scenarios provided from the Hadley Centre Regional Climate Model (HadRM3). We used site-specific terrain parameters for two sample catchments in Europe, ranging from humid temperate (southeast UK) to semi-arid Mediterranean (southern Italy). Results for baseline scenario show that UK winter wheat is mainly affected by annual differences in precipitation and yield distributions do not change with terrain, whilst in the southern Mediterranean climate yield variability is significantly related to a slope × elevation index. For future climate, our simulations confirm earlier predictions of yield increase in the UK, even under the high emission scenario. In the southern Mediterranean, yield reduction is significantly related to slope × elevation index increasing crop failure in drier elevated spots but not in wet years under baseline weather. In scenarios for the future, the likelihood of crop failure rises sharply to more than 60%, and even in wet years, yields are likely to decrease in elevated spots.”