Royal Society Publishing

Climate and the Efficiency of Crop Production in Britain [and Discussion]

J. L. Monteith, C. J. Moss

Abstract

The efficiency of crop production is defined in thermodynamic terms as the ratio of energy output (carbohydrate) to energy input (solar radiation). Temperature and water supply are the main climatic constraints on efficiency. Over most of Britain, the radiation and thermal climates are uniform and rainfall is the main discriminant of yield between regions. Total production of dry matter by barley, potatoes, sugar beet, and apples is strongly correlated with intercepted radiation and these crops form carbohydrate at about 1.4 g per MJ solar energy, equivalent to 2.4% efficiency. Crop growth in Britain may therefore be analysed in terms of (a) the amount of light intercepted during the growing season and (b) the efficiency with which intercepted light is used. The amount intercepted depends on the seasonal distribution of leaf area which, in turn, depends on temperature and soil water supply. These variables are discussed in terms of the rate and duration of development phases. A factorial analysis of efficiency shows that the major arable crops in Britain intercept only about 40% of annual solar radiation and their efficiency for supplying energy through economic yield is only about 0.3%. Some of the factors responsible for this figure are well understood and some are immutable. More work is needed to identify the factors responsible for the large differences between average commercial and record yields.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution