Modelling the effects of climate change on European yields of oilseed rape


Modelling the effects of climate change on European yields of oilseed rape


Project Description


Prof Steven Penfield, John Innes Centre (JIC)

Prof Rachel Warren, Tyndall Centre, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Richard Morris, John Innes Centre

Dr Jeff Price, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia


Climate change is now widely understood to be impacting food supplies. Ensuring future food security will require understanding how climate change will affect crop yields in different agricultural systems and the design of appropriate measures for adaptation. This may require breeding new traits, new agronomic practises or switching to crops better adapted to future weather.

Oilseed rape is an important and profitable crop in the United Kingdom, but its yield is highly variable depending on the weather in each growing season. Because of the large effects of weather on yield, oilseed rape is likely to be vulnerable to climate change, but there is currently no basis for predicting the impact of climate change on yields.

This project aims to bring together crop and climate models to generate new tools for predicting how oilseed rape crops will be affected in future climate scenarios. Using these tools you will explore the potential of proposed adaptation measures to inform agricultural policy and planning.

The specific steps will be:

  1. Test and improve crop models to effectively simulate known effects of past weather and climate on UK oilseed rape yields.
  2. Generate climate change predictions for UK and Europe and feed these into crop models to understand how yield will be affected in different scenarios.
  3. Design and test adaptation strategies by modelling and on the experimental farm, in collaboration with the field trials team.


The successful applicant will receive an exciting opportunity to be trained in computational and statistical approaches to understanding climate change impacts, and in relevant agricultural physiology. Farm experiments will be undertaken by a dedicated field trials team, under the direction of the student. The student will be based at the John Innes Centre and at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UEA.

Person Specification

Applicants will possess or expect to obtain a minimum 2:1 bachelor degree in a numerical subject, such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, or physics. Applicants with science degrees are welcome if a strong numerical background can be evidenced. Experience in at least one programming language (e.g. R) is preferred.

The successful candidate for this project will be hosted at the John Innes Centre


  • Yield instability of winter oilseed rape modulated by early winter temperature. Brown JKM, Beeby R, Penfield S. Sci Rep. 2019 May 6;9(1):6953.
  • The projected effect on insects, vertebrates, and plants of limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C. Warren R, Price J, Graham E, Forstenhaeusler N, VanDerWal J. Science. 2018 May 18;360(6390):791-795.
  • Ray, D. K., Gerber, J. S., MacDonald, G. K. & West, P. C. Climate variation explains a third of global crop yield variability. Nat. Commun. 6, 5989 (2015).
  • James R. Hunt, Julianne M. Lilley, Ben Trevaskis, Bonnie M. Flohr, Allan Peake, Andrew Fletcher, Alexander B. Zwart, David Gobbett, John A. Kirkegaard. Early sowing systems can boost Australian wheat yields despite recent climate change. Nature Climate Change, 2019; 9 (3): 244
  • Deryng, D., Conway, D., Ramankutty, N., Price, J., and Warren, R. 2014. Global crop yield response to extreme heat stress under multiple climate change futures. Environmental Research Letters 9:034011

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

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