As Temperatures Rise, Wheat Production Falls

As Temperatures Rise, Wheat Production Falls

By tracking global climate change, researchers can spot trends in the agriculture industry. The latest discovery – for every degree Celsius (about 1.8 °F) that temperatures increase, the world loses about 6% of its wheat crop. University of Florida professor of agriculture and biological engineering Senthold Asseng, determined these findings through computer modeling.

“We started this with wheat, as wheat is one of the world’s most important food crops,” he says. “The simulations with the multi-crop models showed that warming is already slowing yield gains, despite observed yield increases in the past, at a majority of wheat-growing locations across the globe.

For the past two decades, researchers have estimated the effects of climate change on various crops, including wheat – which provides about 20% of the world’s calories. However, different research groups came up with different results.

By pooling multiple computer models together, Asseng and co-researchers found a more accurate prediction of a changing climate’s impact on crop production. Many estimate that global food production will need to grow 60% by 2050 to keep up with worldwide population gains. Asseng says the effect of temperature changes on crop production will be a major hurdle to jump. The International Panel on Climate Change projects global temperatures to rise another 2 to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Asseng led a group of 50 scientists from 15 countries. The researchers worked with 30 wheat crop models and tested them against field experiments. This ensemble of models performed more accurately than any single model.

Asseng says heat-tolerant wheat cultivars and new crop-management strategies will need to be developed to counteract any projected yield declines from rising temperatures. Crop models could play a major role in developing new research strategies to meet those needs, he says.

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