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A mild spring is key for rainfed cereal yields

Fecha: 13/05/2024

Wheat cultivation in reinfed agriculture

April and May are key months for rainfed agriculture, which is heavily dependent on spring temperatures and rainfall. These months are particularly important because of the stage of development of winter cereals. The 2022 and 2023 cereal seasons were particularly poor due to drought and constant heat waves. However, this year we have had a wet autumn and an advancing spring with mild temperatures and some heavy rains, which forecast a good wheat and barley crop. However, these same heavy autumn and winter rains have resulted for the wheat and barley crops in Segovia in very shallow roots, without deepening, and therefore they will need constant rainfall during the following months.

This situation highlights the strong implications of climate change for rainfed agriculture, affecting the water availability for crops from spring precipitation, mainly due to the variability in the seasonality of rainfall that has been observed.

For these reasons, in Spanish there is a saying that goes “April and May, the keys to the whole year” makes sense, since, if these months were drier or colder than usual, they could greatly damage this season’s cereal crops, which so far seem to be developing in good conditions. Late frosts could especially hurt barley, as it is somewhat ahead of wheat, while drought may influence yields of both crops. On the other hand, excessive moisture has negatively affected some farms with a higher presence of rust and fungus.

Projects such as AGUAGRADA, located in the basin of the Arroyo la Balisa in Segovia, study present and future agricultural water demand under different climate change scenarios. This project is of crucial importance to understand and be able to apply the various adaptations needed to face the consequences of the climate crisis. Interannual variability of rainfall, late frosts, as well as early or long-lasting heat waves are challenges to which Spanish rainfed agriculture will have to adapt.

Historically, Castilla y León was considered the granary of Spain, and although total production today is not what it once was, in the province of Segovia the cultivation of winter cereals has grown by 8.6% with respect to the previous season, with wheat and barley remaining the main crops in the study area. This growing trend justifies and highlights the importance of the AGUAGRADA team’s research, which will generate proposals in collaboration with local actors for the adaptation of rainfed agriculture to the challenges arising from climate change.

AGUAGRADA has the support of the Fundación Biodiversidad of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, through the Call for grants for the implementation of projects that contribute to the implementation of the National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change (2021-2030).

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