Novel crops in a warming world

Gardner, A.S., Gaston, K.J. & Maclean, I.M.D. 2021. Combining qualitative and quantitative methodology to assess prospects for novel crops in a warming climate. Agricultural Systems, 190, 103083.

Context: Climate change will alter the global distribution of climatically suitable space for many species, including agricultural crops. In some locations, warmer temperatures may offer opportunities to grow novel, high value crops, but non-climatic factors also inform agricultural decision-making. These non-climatic factors can be difficult to quantify and incorporate into suitability assessments, particularly for uncertain futures. 

Objective: To demonstrate how qualitative and quantitative techniques can be combined to assess crop suitability with consideration for climatic and non-climatic factors.

Methods: We carried out a horizon scanning exercise that used Delphi methodology to identify possible novel crops for a region in south-west England. We show how the results of the expert panel assessment could be combined with a crop suitability model that only considered climate to identify the best crops to grow in the region. 

Results and conclusions: Whilst improving climate and crop models will enhance the ability to identify environmental constraints to growing novel crops, we propose horizon scanning as a useful tool to understand constraints on crop suitability that are beyond the parameterisation of these models and that may affect agricultural decisions.

Significance: A similar combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessing crop suitability could be used to identify potential novel crops in other regions and to support more holistic assessments of crop suitability in a changing world.