Knowledge for a sustainable world

Christopher Atkinson

A new paper examines the impact of declining winter chill on the production of temperate perennial crops in the northern hemisphere. Winter chilling is a measure of the requirement for a period of cool temperatures during dormancy, below a threshold temperature, to induce budding, flowering and setting fruit.

Co-authored by Professor Chris Atkinson of the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), the review describes the symptoms of a lack of winter chill as well as how limited chilling affects vegetative growth, crop development and yield.

Studies suggest that the amount of winter chill occurring in the UK has declined and is predicted to continue to do so, based on future climate change scenarios described by the UK Climate Impacts Programme.

The implications of future reductions in winter chill require recognition, as this could potentially be a limiting factor on fruit production across Europe, particularly in the south.

The authors conclude that there are a number of studies demonstrating that there is good evidence of climate warming, and winters that have become warmer, reducing winter chill accumulation. Also, that it is not just happening in the UK, but all across the globe.

Developing our understanding of processes by which plants acquire and are released from winter chill is vital and critically important if production systems and approaches to intensify agriculture are going to deliver more food in a warming world.

The authors discuss an adaptation to declining winter temperatures; the development of germplasm that is more appropriate to predicted future winter climate scenarios.