Biophysical limitations on crop productivity

Aims and objectives: 

Understanding the limitations on crop productivity is fundamental to achieving sustainable intensification. Average farm yields appear to be reaching a plateau compared with the increasing yield trends over past decades.  It is critically important to determine if this stagnation in yield increases is caused by the diminishing size of the exploitable yield gap, or by other factors such as soil degradation, loss of beneficial biodiversity, or climate change. 

In this Work Package, we will quantify and model the key biophysical limitations on crop yields for UK farm systems to test the following hypotheses:

  • H1: Biophysical limitations on yield vary with farming system and landscape context;
  • H2: Targeting management approaches to overcome yield limitations at different scales will improve predicted productivity and resilience;
  • H3: New technology and sensors improve accuracy and reduce field effort required to accurately measure patterns in crop type, productivity and stress at multiple scales.

Key outcomes:

  1. A GB-stratification to enable optimal location of field sites [year 1]
  2. Time-series of high-quality yield mapping and biophysical data from commercial farms [year 1]
  3. 3-D conceptual model of soil and geological moisture at the farm and catchment scale [year 2+]
  4. Models predicting: (i) a state-of-the-art representation of biophysical wheat yield potential in theUK; (ii) mapping of the exploitable wheat yield gap; (iii) mapping future wheat yield potential for climate scenarios [year 3+]
  5. A fully validated national Crop Map for the UK  in collaboration with Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd,  together with derived added value data products (e.g. patterns of crop inputs) [year 2+]

Key products and datasets: 

UKCEH Land Cover Map

UKCEH Land CoverĀ® plus: Crops (providing field scale maps of arable crops and grassland, covering 2,000,000 agricultural land parcels)

Lead scientists:

Dr Daniel Morton (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) 
Dr Richard Whalley (Rothamsted Research)