Forecasting the effects of drought on EU crops

September 19, 2003

Brussels, 18 Sep 2003

The EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has used its advanced crop-yield forecasting system to predict the effects of this year's persistent drought on the upcoming harvest, helping policy-makers decide how to tackle the problems faced by Europe's agricultural sector.

Europe's farmers depend on nature to provide them with enough water to sustain their crops and livestock. The summer's heatwave has put huge pressure on Europe's strained water supplies, causing crops to fail and threatening to cause billions of euros in damages. The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) used its state-of-the-art crop-yield forecasting system to predict the effects of the unrelenting drought on this year's harvest.

From an analysis of crop indicators, the JRC estimates that the extreme weather conditions will have a noticeable effect on the quantity and quality of harvests, particularly in central and southern Europe. As part of its role of providing scientific and technical support and expertise to underpin EU policymaking, the JRC combines agro-meteorological models and satellite indicators in forecasting crop yields.

Such crop forecasts help farmers as well. Armed with this information, they are in a better position to make production estimates which form a crucial part of economic planning. Early information on yield and production volume also supports planning for the transport and marketing of agricultural products, as well as scheduling food imports.

Modelling future production

A yield model that correctly accounts for existing soil moisture and seasonal rainfall predictions can accurately forecast yields for whole countries months in advance of harvest. The expected drop in the EU's main crop yields in 2003 ranges from about 2% for potatoes to 25% for sunflowers. The loss in wheat production will be approximately 10 million tonnes.

Since April 2003, the climatic water balance indicator shows a significant deficit between the available water supply from rainfall and the water requirements of crops in most Member States, except Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the UK. This has led to grave concern about yields from yet-to-be harvested summer crops.

The JRC performs quantitative forecasts by simulating crop-growth indicators, low-resolution satellite-derived information and the statistical analysis of data produced. Yields are calculated every two months and the main cereals (wheat, barley, maize), oil seeds (rapeseed, sunflower), sugar beet and potato are included for the entire European continent, North Africa and Turkey.

The models and methodology used were conceived and implemented by the JRC's Monitoring Agriculture with Remote Sensing Unit, which generates monthly information on land use, exceptional growing conditions and forecasts expected yields of various crops for all EU Member States. A bulletin with crop analysis and forecasts is published on a regular basis.


More information:

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