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article imageEurope's wheat production at risk from changing weather patterns

By Karen Graham     Jun 23, 2014 in Environment
With ever-increasing frequency, adverse weather occurrences have been taking place worldwide. The recent persistent rainfall and subsequent flooding in the U.K. are just one of a cluster of weather events happening around the globe.
A major concern for plant specialists and farmers is the impact on crop production in Europe, especially if the projected number of adverse weather events, increased rainfall, storms and flooding, continue to occur. And according to the U.K.'s Met Office, evidence points to increasingly greater amounts of rainfall, flooding and storms.
European wheat production will be hit hard, and farmers will have to contend with greater than normal crop losses. Southern Europe is expected to face an increased number of heat waves and droughts, while Northern Europe will be hit with cooler and wetter conditions. Many of these events are forecast to occur when sowing time comes about.
The extremes we have seen already, not only in the U.K., but in the U.S., are an indication of what will occur in the near future as weather changes further affect food production. Crop failures from drought, an increase in plant diseases, water-logging and the need to develop newer ways of managing the soil will be just some of the problems that will need to be addressed. Many of these problems are already being seen, such as the food shortages and the rise in some food prices we see today. Food security will end up being a greater threat as the years go on.
Explaining the reasons behind the adverse weather
Climatologists believe there is enough evidence to explain what is happening to create these adverse weather events. Remember the extremely cold weather conditions in Canada and the U.S.A.? The weather extremes in the U.K. were happening at about the same time. These adverse conditions are being associated with changes in the up-stream differences occurring in the jet stream over North America and the North Pacific.
At the same time, according to a media report issued by Met Office, the North Atlantic jet stream was also abnormally strong. Met Office says, "this can be linked to an unusually strong westerly phase of the stratospheric Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO), which in turn has driven a very deep polar vortex and strong polar night jet. This was when we all started hearing about the polar vortex.
Europe's wheat production at risk
European wheat production accounts for 29 percent of the world's production of this essential and necessary food item. Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein for human food, even higher in protein than maize or rice. According to international wheat production statistics, the European Union lead the world in 2012 in the production of wheat with 134.5 million metric tons, surpassing China, India and the U.S..
This year, the European Commission is estimating, that despite the extremes in U.K. weather this past winter, the European Union wheat harvest will produce 144.5 million metric tons. This year's crop production is forecast to be the best in six years. But even with this good news, the fact that many farmers in the U.K. had to replant their wheat crop this year was glossed over by the authors.
MTT Agrifood Research Finland: Study on adverse weather on wheat production
The effects of extreme weather on Europe's wheat production was the premise of a study published in Nature Climate Change on May 25, 2014. The group of researchers, led by Miroslav Trnka of the Global Change Research Center, Czech Academy of Sciences, not only studied present adverse weather conditions, and their impact on wheat production, but was able to formulate predicted outcomes of future differing weather conditions and their affect on wheat production.
Based on studies and methodologies done in Finland, a "climatic risk analysis" was created as an ongoing project aimed at assessing risk to crops in Finland from adverse climate events. The researchers went a step further, adapting the indicator approach to wheat production in Europe.
The information provided in the study will be very helpful in planning new strategies in not only planting techniques but in the development of even better drought-tolerant breeds of wheat and other crops, as well. One of the researchers, Reimund P. Rötter, with Plant Production Research, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, in Mikkeli, Finland, said:
"Drastic regional variations in climatic conditions also require regional strategies to climate change adaptation. In some areas, we need to be able to cultivate varieties that are resistant to heat; elsewhere, both better tolerance of drought and heat will be required. In other areas the varieties mainly have to survive low temperatures and water logging. Thus research and agricultural policy should support and invest in advanced breeding and modelling approaches and their integration for accelerating delivery of new diverse varieties of wheat for the different future environments."
Inaction on the world community's part will result in increased food insecurity, resulting in economic instability and an increased risk to some country's security. One problem, if not handled will lead to additional problems, and food and water are essential to all of us. It is essential that we learn to adapt now, by changing planting times, perhaps and developing hardier seeds. With more than 840 million people in the world suffering from chronic hunger, inaction on our part would be devastating.
More about Climate change, adverse weather, Wheat production, Europe, Threatens
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