It is predicted that climate change will increase not only seasonal air and soil temperatures in northern Europe but also the variability of rainfall patterns. This may influence temporal soil moisture regimes and the growth and yield of winter wheat. A lysimeter experiment was carried out in 2008/09 with three factors: rainfall amount, rainfall frequency and soil warming (two levels in each factor), on sandy loam soil in Denmark. The soil warming treatment included non-heated as the control and an increase in soil temperature by 5°C at 100 mm depth as heated. The rainfall treatment included the site mean for 1961–90 as the control and the projected monthly mean change for 2071–2100 under the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) A2 scenario for the climate change treatment. Projected monthly mean changes in rainfall compared to the reference period 1961–90 show, on average, 31% increase during winter (November–March) and 24% decrease during summer (July–September) with no changes during spring (April–June). The rainfall frequency treatment included mean monthly rainy days for 1961–90 as the control and a reduced frequency treatment with only half the number of rainy days of the control treatment, without altering the monthly mean rainfall amount. Mobile rain-out shelters, automated irrigation system and insulated heating cables were used to impose the treatments.
Soil warming hastened crop development during early stages (until stem elongation) and shortened the total crop growing season by 12 days without reducing the period taken for later development stages. Soil warming increased green leaf area index (GLAI) and above-ground biomass during early growth, which was accompanied by an increased amount of nitrogen (N) in plants. However, the plant N concentration and its dilution pattern during later developmental stages followed the same pattern in both heated and control plots. Increased soil moisture deficit was observed only during the period when crop growth was significantly enhanced by soil warming. However, soil warming reduced N concentration in above-ground biomass during the entire growing period, except at harvest, by advancing crop development. Soil warming had no effect on the number of tillers, but reduced ear number and increased 1000 grain weight. This did not affect grain yield and total above-ground biomass compared with control. This suggests that genotypes with a longer vegetative period would probably be better adapted to future warmer conditions. The rainfall pattern treatments imposed in the present study did not influence either soil moisture regimes or performance of winter wheat, though the crop receiving future rainfall amount tended to retain more green leaf area. There was no significant interaction between the soil warming and rainfall treatments on crop growth.