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Future adaptation for wheat cultivation will be limited by adverse weather in Europe

Landscape view of wheat crop

Modelling predicts that shifting wheat production to different regions in Europe may not be possible by the end of the century, as exposure to adverse weather in European arable farming areas will increase.

In a modelling study, a group of international scientists, including Rothamsted Research, which is strategically funded by the BBSRC, explored the question on how climate change will alter the probability of adverse weather events in Europe by the end of the century. The study focused on wheat producing areas and examined how wheat cultivation adaptation strategies may be affected under the predicted scenarios. The results are published in the Journal Royal Society Interface.

By using climate scenarios based on low- and high climate sensitivity global climate models from the CMIP5 ensemble, the researchers showed that the probability of 11 adverse weather events with the potential to significantly reduce wheat yield will increase markedly across entire Europe. Wheat cultivation areas in particular, will be exposed to significant higher incidents of high-temperatures, severe droughts and field inaccessibility compared to other types of adverse events.

One of the adaptation strategies for reducing the risk of wheat yield losses due to adverse weather is stress avoidance through shifts in either time (when crops flower or mature) or in space (area of cultivation). Avoidance in time could be achieved by using early ripening cultivars to escape heat or drought stress. However, if this strategy was to be adopted with the current cultivar varieties available, it would lead to a lower sum of intercepted global radiation to which the crop is exposed and this in turn would result in lower yield potential.

Avoidance in space could be achieved by shifting wheat production to new growing areas which could be less endangered by the projected increase in adverse events. However, the increase in the adverse event frequency over the entire available area of arable land in Europe is more than three-fold compared to two-fold increase over currently used wheat growing areas. This indicates that shifting wheat production to areas not currently used for wheat would lead to even higher probability of adverse weather.

Dr Mikhail Semenov at Rothamsted Research and one of the lead scientists of the study said: “In 2015, average global temperature increase has exceeded 1 oC for the first time; this is halfway towards 2 oC threshold that could result in potentially dangerous climate change. Understanding future risks to wheat production in Europe is critically important for development of robust adaptation strategies. Our research showed that adaptation options for wheat could be limited due to a substantial increase in probability and magnitude of adverse weather events in Europe under climate change”.

Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, who is leading the 20:20 Wheat strategic programme of research at Rothamsted Research commented: “ It is critical that we use the best available to us resources to model  impacts of climate change on wheat and explore adaptation strategies. These studies are essential to inform us with regards to the type of cultivars that will be required in the future in order to ensure that yield potential losses are avoided whilst the nutritional value of the crops cultivated is maintained and potentially further enhanced”.



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About Rothamsted Research

We are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. Our mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Our strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.

Rothamsted Research is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2013-2014 Rothamsted Researched received a total of £32.9M from the BBSRC.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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