SLU news

Stable yields also under extreme weather?

Published: 04 March 2019

We design our infrastructures, such as bridges, to withstand catastrophic but infrequent events, like floods. Can we use similar reasoning to design our cropping systems? Researchers at SLU and Uppsala University recently received funds from Formas, for a project to support the adaptation of agriculture to climatic extremes. The project will not only take into account the crops, cropping options and weather conditions, but also the human dimension – the farmers’ risk attitude and their decision making under uncertainty.

We have already seen that climate change and extreme weather can negatively affect crop yields and increase their year-to-year variability. Everybody in Northern Europe remembers the hot and dry summer of 2018, when Swedish yields were reduced on average by 30%.

"Combinations of weather conditions, such as heat and drought, can be more detrimental than each condition occurring in isolation. These conditions are expected to become more and more frequent in the future", says Giulia Vico at SLU, who leads the project.

To develop agricultural systems that can produce high and stable yields also in the future, we need to understand how our crops are affected by future climates, including extreme and currently infrequent conditions, and how to grow crops so that they can withstand extreme conditions. Possible options are selection of crop species, diversification and addition of soil amendments. Farmers’ risk preferences need also to be considered.

The project is a collaboration among Giulia Vico and Riccardo Bommarco, both at SLU, and Giuliano Di Baldassarre, at Uppsala University and the Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science.

By combining meteorological and crop yield data with models, the project aims at answering three key questions:

  • Which extremes and combinations of weather conditions are most detrimental to crop yields?
  • Which cropping practices diminish the risks of weather-induced yield reductions under these conditions?
  • Are these practices immediately applicable, considering the farmers’ risk coping attitudes?

The project focuses on crops typical of Swedish and Northern European agriculture – wheat, barley, oat and oil rapeseed. The researchers will identify the most promising cropping options under different climatic conditions to reduce the risks of extremely low yields.

Farmers’ preferences will also be considered.

"Exploiting the estimated risk distribution, we will rank cropping options based on how they are perceived by the farmers, in the light of their risk attitude. We will employ methods that have previously been used in the economy for decision on how to invest money", says Giulia Vico.

The project results can support societies in finding cropping options that can withstand extreme conditions. As such, the project will be beneficial for advisers, farmers and insurance companies.

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