Farming can be hit hard by extreme weather events such as drought, heatwaves and severe frosts. An EU-funded project has developed new modelling tools to better forecast the impact of extreme weather on agricultural production in Europe and beyond - important for protecting the global food supply.
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The growth of food staples such as maize or wheat is often affected by sudden spells of high or low temperatures. Being able to forecast more accurately how such weather changes affect yields will help decision-makers and the farming industry plan ahead to avoid food shortages.
Researchers from 14 countries collaborated in the EU-funded MODEXTREME project, including scientists from Africa, Asia, the USA and South America, to improve the accuracy of biophysical models that can simulate the response of arable crops, grasslands and trees to adverse weather shocks.
The project team built a data repository which can be used to study the effect of climate variability on agricultural production. It then set about improving the capability of simulation models to assess plant growth and agricultural yield in a variety of conditions examples include olive production under irrigation gradients and herbaceous crops under drought stress.
Early warnings in case of difficult growing seasons caused by, for example, severe heat or lack of rainfall, will enhance the capacity of decision-makers to assure food imports and regulate the agricultural market, says project coordinator Gianni Bellocchi of INRA, France. The results of the project essentially model simulations against observed data can be used by a variety of stakeholders to document the accuracy of models under a range of conditions in Europe and beyond.
The database developed by MODEXTREME includes a vast amount of information on weather patterns. In addition, the team generated a variety of climate scenarios using temperature and precipitation data.
Modelling approaches were evaluated for a range of crop-and-country combinations. These combinations included among many others wheat in Spain, maize in Germany and barley in Poland. For each combination, three key moments in the crop cycle were identified for forecasting purposes.
Devising new, downloadable software packages based on the teams research and data gathering was central to the projects remit.
Software components have been developed to support modelling tools used by the European Commission for crop prediction forecasting and early warning systems in agriculture, says Bellocchi.
In particular, the project models enhance the capabilities of the BioMA platform, which is a key tool used by the EU to forecast crop yield in Europe and in climate change studies.
Information from MODEXTREMEs modelling solutions is expected to improve yield estimates in a variety of agricultural systems across the world.
Those charged with guaranteeing food production now have advanced tools to help them prepare and implement agricultural policies which can reduce the social and economic impact of extreme weather events.
A stakeholder platform has also been established to bring together the project team and end-users, including experimental scientists, government and EU-level bodies, and authorities charged with developing agricultural policy.
The MODEXTREME software tools are available without restriction to the public under the creative commons licence, provided their use is not-for-profit.