Wheat in Europe is ill equipped to handle increasingly erratic weather across much of the continent.
Wheat in Europe is ill equipped to handle increasingly erratic weather across much of the continent. And that is worrying because wheat, a staple crop in Europe, is the leading source of plant protein in people’s diet, stresses a team of researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark.
Wheat is a particularly sensitive crop and even shorter spells of drought or excess heat or cold can decimate yields, thereby compromising food security on the continent.
“Wheat yield is generally sensitive to even a few days of exposure to waterlogging and to wet weather that favours disease,” note the researchers, who published a study on the decline in the climate resilience of wheat in Europe. “In addition, heat stress rather than drought sensitivity appears to be a limiting factor for adaptation of wheat to climate change in Europe,” they add.
Nor does it matter much what parts of Europe wheat is cultivated with yields being equally vulnerable to extreme weather within northern, central and southern European countries. “There were serious gaps in wheat resilience across all Europe, especially with regard to yield performance under abundant rain,” the scientists say.
The answer for Europe’s farmers and plant breeders lies in enhancing the genetic diversity of wheat on the continent with an increased variety of cultivars so as to improve European wheat’s overall climate resilience. “The capacity of a single crop variety to maintain good yield performance under climatic variability and extremes is limited, but diversity in responses to critical weather events can effectively enhance climate resilience,” the researchers explain.
However, warns Professor Jørgen E. Olesen from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, higher variability in wheat can lead to greater speculation and price volatility on local food markets. That could drive up prices and so hurt the poor who can less afford to pay higher prices for staple food items.