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The impact of climate change on sugarbeet yield in the UK: 1976–2004

  • K. W. JAGGARD (a1), A. QI (a1) and M. A. SEMENOV (a2)

Since the 1970s, the delivered sugar yield per hectare has risen at an average annual rate of 0·111 t/ha, while the sugar yield in the official variety trials has increased at an average annual rate of 0·204 t/ha. These increases are usually considered to be the result of improvements in varieties and in beet agronomy. The present paper considers the possible impact of recent changes in climate on UK sugar yields by using the Broom's Barn Crop Growth Model and daily weather data collected over the last 30 years. Simulations of sugar yield using weather in eastern England since 1976 increased by an average annual rate of 0·139 t/ha, which accounted for about two thirds of the rate in the official variety trials. This increase was not an artefact of the accuracy of weather recording but it was, in part, accounted for by the trend to earlier sowing. Although it was not statistically significant, the earlier sowing trend was associated with an increase of 0·025 t/ha per year and was an indirect effect of the climate change. The annual deviations from these trends have not tended to become significantly bigger or smaller over the three decades. The model is not variety-specific, so it makes no allowance for variety improvements during the last 30 years. Clearly, varieties have improved so the implication must be that some of the changes in agronomy have tended to decrease the yields significantly. The changes in agronomic practice most likely to be responsible are the extension of the crop processing campaign, leading to greater post-harvest storage losses, and a decrease in the irrigated area.

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