Frequent extreme weather events are increasing crop losses in Europe

2 April 2021

Europe experienced repeated and prolonged heatwaves in recent years with records set regularly. More of them are to come, which could place the continent’s food security at risk.

That is according to a team of researchers, who looked at data on agricultural production in 28 European countries between 1961 and 2018, including the members of the European Union alongside the United Kingdom. They then examined how such extreme weather events as droughts, heatwaves, cold snaps and floods impacted production.

What they have found is that climate change is already causing increasing crop losses across the continent. “Cold waves led to cereal and non-cereal yield declines by 1.3 and 2.6%, while flood impacts were marginal and not statistically significant,” the researchers write in a study.

The worst effects have been brought by heatwaves, however. “[T]he severity of heatwave and drought impacts on crop production roughly tripled over the last 50 years” from losses of 2.2% between 1964 and 1990 to 7.3% from 1991 to 2015, the researchers explain.

Meanwhile, even as droughts which are becoming more frequent, they are also becoming more intense. “Drought-related cereal production losses are shown to intensify by more than 3% per year,” they add.

Although overall crop yields in Europe have increased over the years thanks to more efficient agricultural practices, agricultural cultivation is becoming increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

At the greatest risk are cereals. “Cereals, a staple that occupies nearly 65 percent of the EU’s cultivated area and is mainly used for animal feed, is the crop most severely affected,” explains Teresa Bras, the paper’s lead author who works at the Nova School of Science and Technology in Lisbon, Portugal.

In 2018 alone the extreme heatwave and simultaneous drought caused a decrease in grain production of 8% compared to the average rate over the previous five years. The results included fodder shortages for livestock and sharp increases in the prices of cereals.

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