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Climate and economic forecasting directing crop science

Developing crops for the needs of future generations

The sustainable development need

Crop science that is useful for the agronomic systems of the future.

As the world faces the multiple challenges of feeding a wealthier population in a globalising trade system with changing dietary demands that put further stress on land and oceans, soil and plant science, applied to farming systems, is more important than ever before.  However, breeding improvements in crops takes a long time – at least 15-20 years to go from concept to finalisation of product. 

 This lengthy process includes:  

  • discovery and description of a new trait in a crop species.
  • proof of concept pre-breeding and development of genetic markers for that trait.
  • the transfer of this technology to breeders.  
  • breeding of the trait into elite varieties suitable to their environments and varietal registration.
  • seed multiplication and agricultural extension work that brings the improved crop into the hands of farmers.

As this process is time-consuming, it’s essential that future climate and potential crop demands are understood as far as possible, to ensure that the research investment leads to what farmers need and can use. 

Our transdisciplinary response

The NISD will use economic forecasts and climate modelling to predict how agronomic systems will change in low-and middle-income countries around the world. Using a statistical technique called multivariate clustering, we can then classify predicted agronomic areas into a limited number of types.

Central to the NISD approach is that we would select one currently existing agronomic area for each cluster. These will be our ‘indicator agronomic areas’: regions that are climatically and socioeconomically representative now of what large areas of the world will be like in 20 or 30 years. We can then study the economic and environmental challenges and social changes in these indicator areas in detail, using this to inform crop science. In addition, lab simulated future climates will be used to select culturally appropriate new varieties to provide breeding solutions to the anticipated changes in agronomic systems.

Partners and progress

The NISD team

The NISD team brings together partners from across the Norwich Research Park: the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the John Innes Centre, and the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development (DEV).

Rachel Warren

Tyndall Centre

Steven Penfield

John Innes Centre

Peter Emmrich

UEA International Development

Natasha Grist

UEA International Development

Arjan Verschoor

UEA International Development

Progress, outputs and outcomes

The NISD approach to use climate modelling for directing crop science will build on the modelling work already done at the Tyndall Centre as part of the Wallace Initiative, but would focus on entire agricultural systems, not just individual species.


  • We intend to apply for grants including linked PhD studentships in 2021.

Project contact

If you are interested in this project and would like to know more, please contact:

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