BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — A group of European researchers have found that current breeding programs and cultivar selection practices in Europe do not provide the needed resilience to climate change.

The authors state in a paper recently published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that the response diversity of wheat on farmers’ fields in most European countries has worsened in the past 5 to 15 years, depending on the country.

Researchers predict that greater variability and extremeness of local weather conditions will lead to reduced yields in wheat and increased yield variability.

Unless wheat varieties are improved, the result could be a market with greater speculation and price volatility, the study said, which may threaten stable access to food by the poor, which in turn can enhance political instability and migration.

The researchers said their assessments were based on thousands of yield observations of wheat cultivars in nine European countries for qualifying how different cultivars respond to weather. The researchers identified the variation of wheat response diversity on farmers’ fields and demonstrated the relation to climate resilience.

The yield responses of all cultivars to different weather events were relatively similar within northern and central Europe, and within southern European countries. There were serious gaps in wheat resilience across all Europe, especially regarding yield performance under abundant rain.

The authors said the need for climate resilience of staple food crops such as wheat must be better articulated. Increased awareness could foster governance of resilience through research and breeding programs, incentives and regulation.