Cereal yield gaps across Europe

René Schils*, Jørgen E. Olesen, Kurt Christian Kersebaum, Bert Rijk, Michael Oberforster, Valery Kalyada, Maksim Khitrykau, Anne Gobin, Hristofor Kirchev, Vanya Manolova, Ivan Manolov, Mirek Trnka, Petr Hlavinka, Taru Paluoso, Pirjo Peltonen-Sainio, Lauri Jauhiainen, Josiane Lorgeou, Hélène Marrou, Nikos Danalatos, Sotirios ArchontoulisNándor Fodor, John Spink, Pier Paolo Roggero, Simona Bassu, Antonio Pulina, Till Seehusen, Anne Kjersti Uhlen, Katarzyna Żyłowska, Anna Nieróbca, Jerzy Kozyra, João Vasco Silva, Benvindo Martins Maçãs, José Coutinho, Viorel Ion, Jozef Takáč, M.I. Mínguez, Henrik Eckersten, Lilia Levy, Juan Manuel Herrera, Jürg Hiltbrunner, Oleksii Kryvobok, Oleksandr Kryvoshein, Hendrik Boogaard, Hugo de Groot, Jan Peter Lesschen, Lenny van Bussel, Joost Wolf, Mink Zijlstra, Marloes P. van Loon, Martin K. van Ittersum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)


Europe accounts for around 20% of the global cereal production and is a net exporter of ca. 15% of that production. Increasing global demand for cereals justifies questions as to where and by how much Europe's production can be increased to meet future global market demands, and how much additional nitrogen (N) crops would require. The latter is important as environmental concern and legislation are equally important as production aims in Europe. Here, we used a country-by-country, bottom-up approach to establish statistical estimates of actual grain yield, and compare these to modelled estimates of potential yields for either irrigated or rainfed conditions. In this way, we identified the yield gaps and the opportunities for increased cereal production for wheat, barley and maize, which represent 90% of the cereals grown in Europe. The combined mean annual yield gap of wheat, barley, maize was 239 Mt, or 42% of the yield potential. The national yield gaps ranged between 10 and 70%, with small gaps in many north-western European countries, and large gaps in eastern and south-western Europe. Yield gaps for rainfed and irrigated maize were consistently lower than those of wheat and barley. If the yield gaps of maize, wheat and barley would be reduced from 42% to 20% of potential yields, this would increase annual cereal production by 128 Mt (39%). Potential for higher cereal production exists predominantly in Eastern Europe, and half of Europe's potential increase is located in Ukraine, Romania and Poland. Unlocking the identified potential for production growth requires a substantial increase of the crop N uptake of 4.8 Mt. Across Europe, the average N uptake gaps, to achieve 80% of the yield potential, were 87, 77 and 43 kg N ha−1 for wheat, barley and maize, respectively. Emphasis on increasing the N use efficiency is necessary to minimize the need for additional N inputs. Whether yield gap reduction is desirable and feasible is a matter of balancing Europe's role in global food security, farm economic objectives and environmental targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-120
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Barley
  • Crop modelling
  • Grain maize
  • Nitrogen
  • Wheat
  • Yield potential


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