Prospects for novel crops in a warmer climate

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences

Abstract

There is an urgent need to adapt agriculture to climate change to ensure sustained food security. While many of the impacts of climate change on agriculture will be negative, warming temperatures will also bring about opportunities to grow new crop types in Britain, many of which are high value, but require specific warm microclimates in which to grow. This project will apply recent NERC-funded advances in high-resolution bioclimate modelling to help determine which novel crops could be grown and where would be best to grow them. Work will be carried out in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in partnership with Cornwall Council (CC). CC have recently set out a strategy for economic development that aims to ensure Cornwall is Europe's leading region for high-quality food producers through increased innovation and farm diversification, with emphasis on local distinctiveness. The student will contribute scientific understanding to CC's agri-development activities in three key areas:

1. Identification of the range of novel crop types that could potentially be grown in the region;
2. High-resolution mapping of climate suitability for these crops to identify areas most suited to growing particular crop types.
3. Assessment of the potential to improve microclimatic growing conditions through in-farm management.

Through the County Farm Service, CC provides advice to farm business and is thus very well equipped to work with the farming community to fine-tune the research and to disseminate the results in a meaningful way. The project thus has a real opportunity to translate NERC-funded research into meaningful economic impact.

Although the project is specifically addressing the potential to grow novel crops in one region of the UK, the approaches that will be developed could be applied more widely. The models to be further developed as part of this project provide gridded estimates of climate at much higher spatial and temporal resolutions than existing models and are thus particularly suited to capturing climate extremes and variability at the local scales meaningful for farming of a variety of crop types. The techniques used to identify climate suitability in Cornwall could also be applied to a variety of agricultural systems. Additionally, in the context of the UK, Cornwall has a climate that is particularly suited to growing novel crops because of the rarity of frosts. However, as the climate continues to warm, other regions of the UK will experience lower frost risk and the identification of crops that could be grown in Cornwall could provide early indications of those that could be grown more widely at a later date. Thus, this project will inform not just novel crop production in Cornwall, but could serve as an exemplar for adapting agriculture to climate change generally.

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