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Forage-based dairy and livestock production is the backbone of agriculture in Northern Europe in economic terms. Changes in growing conditions that affect forage grass yield may have great economic consequences. This study assessed the impact of climate change on two grass species, timothy and ryegrass, at 14 locations in Northern Europe (Iceland, Scandinavia, Baltic countries) in a near-future scenario (2040–2065) compared with the baseline period 1960–1990. Local-scale climate scenarios were based on the CMIP3 multi-model ensembles of 15 global climate models in order to quantify the uncertainty in the impacts relating to highly uncertain projections of future climate. Potential yield of timothy, the most important perennial forage grass in Northern Europe, was simulated under the assumption of optimal overwintering conditions and current CO2 level, in order to obtain an estimate of the effect of changes in summer climate per se. The risk of frost and ice damage during winter was also assessed. The simulation results demonstrated that potential grass yield will increase throughout the study area, mainly as a result of increased growing temperatures. The yield response to climate change was slightly larger in irrigated than non-irrigated conditions (14% and 11%, respectively), due to larger water deficit for the 2050 scenario. However, a geo-climatic gradient was evident, with the largest predicted yield response at western locations. A geo-climatic gradient was also revealed with respect to potential frost damage, which was predicted to increase during winter in some areas east of the Baltic Sea for timothy, and for a larger number of locations both east and west of the Baltic Sea for perennial ryegrass. The risk of frost damage in spring was predicted to increase mainly in western parts of the study area. If frost damage to perennial ryegrass increases during winter, the expected increase in winter temperature due to global warming may not necessarily improve overwintering conditions, so the growing zone may not necessarily expand to the north and east of the study area by 2050. The uncertainty in impacts was frequently, but not consistently, greater in western than eastern locations.
► The impact of climate change on forage grass production in N. Europe was assessed.
► Ensembles of climate predictions were used to account for climate-related uncertainty.
► Simulations indicated increased grass yields, mainly due to increased temperatures.
► Risk of frost damage was predicted to increase for some locations, but not all.
► Predicted changes in yield and risk of winter damage followed geo-climatic gradients.
Journal: Agricultural and Forest Meteorology - Volume 170, 15 March 2013, Pages 103–113