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Is rainfed crop production in central Europe at risk? Using a regional climate model to produce high resolution agroclimatic information for decision makers

  • M. TRNKA (a1), J. EITZINGER (a2), M. DUBROVSKÝ (a1) (a3), D. SEMERÁDOVÁ (a1), P. ŠTĚPÁNEK (a4), P. HLAVINKA (a1), J. BALEK (a1), P. SKALÁK (a3), A. FARDA (a3), H. FORMAYER (a2) and Z. ŽALUD (a1)...

Summary

The reality of climate change has rarely been questioned in Europe in the last few years as a consensus has emerged amongst a wide range of national to local environmental and resource policy makers and stakeholders that climate change has been sufficiently demonstrated in a number of sectors. A number of site-based studies evaluating change of attainable yields of various crops have been conducted in Central Europe, but studies that evaluate agroclimatic potential across more countries in the region are rare. Therefore, the main aim of the present study was to develop and test a technique for a comprehensive evaluation of agroclimatic conditions under expected climate conditions over all of Central Europe with a high spatial resolution in order to answer the question posed in the title of the paper ‘Is rainfed crop production in central Europe at risk?’ The domain covers the entire area of Central Europe between latitudes 45° and 51·5°N and longitudes 8° and 27°E, including at least part of the territories of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine. The study is based on a range of agroclimatic indices that are designed to capture complex relations existing between climate and crops (their development and/or production) as well as the agrosystems as a whole. They provide information about various aspects of crop production, but they are not meant to compete with other and sometimes more suitable tools (e.g. process-based crop models, soil workability models, etc.). Instead, the selected indices can be seen as complementary to crop modelling tools that describe aspects not fully addressed or covered by crop models for an overall assessment of crop production conditions. The set of indices includes: sum of effective global radiation, number of effective growing days, Huglin index, water balance during the period from April to June (AMJ) and during the summer (JJA), proportion of days suitable for harvesting of field crops in June and July, and proportion of days suitable for sowing in early spring as well as during the autumn. The study concluded that while the uncertainties about future climate change impacts remain, the increase in the mean production potential of the domain as a whole (expressed in terms of effective global radiation and number of effective growing days) is likely a result of climate change, while inter-annual yield variability and risk may also increase. However, this is not true for the Pannonian (the lowlands between the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains and the Dinaric Alps) and Mediterranean parts of the domain, where increases in the water deficit will further limit rainfed agriculture but will probably lead to an increase in irrigation agriculture if local water resources are dwindling. Increases in the severity of the 20-year drought deficit and more substantial water deficits during the critical part of the growing season are very likely over the central and western part of the domain. Similarly, the inter-annual variability of water balance is likely to increase over the domain. There is also a chance of conditions for sowing during spring deteriorating due to unfavourable weather, which might increase the preference given to winter crops. This is already likely due to their ability to withstand spring drought stress events. Harvesting conditions in June (when harvest of some crops might take place in the future) are not improving beyond the present level, making the planning of the effective harvest time more challenging. Based on the evidence provided by the present study, it could be concluded that rainfed agriculture might indeed face more climate-related risks, but the overall conditions will probably allow for acceptable yield levels in most seasons. However, the evidence also suggests that the risk of extremely unfavourable years, resulting in poor economic returns, is likely to increase.

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*To whom all correspondence should be addressed. Email: mirek_trnka@yahoo.com

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