Data on grain yield from field trials on winter wheat under conventional farming, harvested between 1992 and 2008, were combined with daily weather data available for 44 grids covering Denmark. Nine agroclimatic indices were calculated and used for describing the relation between weather data and grain yield. These indices were calculated as average temperature, radiation and precipitation during winter (1 October–31 March), spring (1 April–15 June) and summer (16 June–31 July), and they were included as linear and quadratic covariates in a mixed regression model. The model also included an effect of year to describe the change in yield caused by unrecorded variables such as management changes. The final model included all effects that were significant for at least one of the two soil types (sandy and loamy soils). Seven of the nine agroclimatic indices were included in the final model that was used to predict the wheat grain yield under five climate scenarios (a baseline for 1985 and two climate change projections for 2020 and 2040) for two soil types and two locations in Denmark.
The agroclimatic index for summer temperature showed the strongest effect causing lower yields with increasing temperature, whereas yield increased with increasing radiation during summer and spring. Winter precipitation and spring temperature did not affect grain yield significantly. Grain yield responded non-linearly to mean winter temperature with the highest yield at 4·4°C and lower yields both below and above this inflection point.
The application of the model predicted that the average yield would decrease under projected climate change. The average decrease varied between 0·1 and 0·8 t/ha (comparable to a relative reduction of 1·6–12.3%) depending on the climate projection, location and soil type. On average, the grain yield decreased by about 0·25 t/ha (c. 3.6%) from 1985 to 2020 and by about 0·55 t/ha (c. 8·0%) from 1985 to 2040. The predicted yield decrease depended on climate projection and was larger for wheat grown in West Zealand than in Central Jutland and in most cases also larger for loamy soils than for sandy soils.
The inter-annual variation in grain yield varied greatly between climate projections. The coefficient of variation (CV) varied between 0·16 and 0·46 and was smallest for wheat grown on loamy soils in Central Jutland in the baseline climate and largest for winter wheat grown under one of the 2040 climate projections. The increase in CV is not so much an effect of increased climatic variability under the climate change projections, but more an effect of increased winter temperature, where more extreme winter temperatures (lower or higher than the inflection point at 4·4°C) increased the effect of winter temperatures.