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RUDN agriculturists suggested an optimal strategy for growing wheat in northern Eurasia

RUDN University


IMAGE: Wheat cultivation in Russia (1971-2009): an estimate. view more 

Credit: Courtesy of Vyaccheslav Sheludkov.

A team from RUDN and the Italian Euromediterranean Center for Climate Change (CMCC) found out how climate changes may affect wheat harvest in high latitudes of the Earth (on the example of Russia). Agricultural conditions are expected to undergo the biggest changes in the northern part of the Eastern hemisphere. Scientists believe that in the upcoming decades the most yielding areas in the south of the country will be hit by droughts. The optimal territory for wheat and other grain crops cultivation would move north-east and also to the Far East. The study was published in the Land Use Policy journal.

In the recent years Russia has become a world leader in grain export: in 2016 it held the first place in the market after producing over 30 million of tons for sale. Wheat remains the most valuable crop for middle-latitude countries, and its harvests play an important role in the world's food safety. However, no full-scale climatic forecast covering wheat cultivation in Russian has ever been done before. This task was fulfilled by RUDN and CMCC scientists.

The researchers used the data of six climatic models: ERA-Interim (Europe, 1979-2016) and five climate change forecasts up to 2099 (GFDL-ESM3M, HadGEM2-ES, IPSL-CM5A-MR, MIROC-ESM and NorESM1-M). It turned out that global warming influenced the "well-being" of grain crops in two ways: made it easier to grow them in high latitudes (previously too cold) and at the same time increased the frequency of droughts in southern areas - currently, the main grain crop yielding territories.

The authors of the research found out that the area of lands that can be used for wheat cultivation has been increasing by about 10 million ha a decade since 1980. However, these conditions are mainly beneficial for winter varieties. In 2005-2015 their harvesting area increased by approximately 4 million ha, and in case of spring varieties it decreased by 2 million ha.

"The main, most yielding wheat areas in modern Russia are its southern territories that will become risky for agriculture in time as the frequency of droughts and extreme weather conditions is going to increase there," warns Professor Riccardo Valentini, director of Climate Change and Smart Technologies Laboratory at RUDN and the holder of Nobel peace prize of 2007 as a member of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

According to the scientists, Russian agriculture has two paths to choose from. It can re-cultivate abandoned lands, especially in Central Russia (no less than 27 million ha in total). This strategy meets climatic requirements, but would hardly work from the economic point of view: low soil quality and scarce water resources would require considerable investments in grain crops cultivation which is unlikely given current low wheat prices. RUDN scientists suggest shifting attention to north-western regions of the country and the Far East. If new varieties of wheat are developed in view of local climatic conditions, spring varieties are used, and experiments with other grain crops (millet, barley) are carried out, these regions may become the main agricultural territories of Russia.


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