Simulation of winter wheat response to variable sowing dates and densities in a high-yielding environment
Crop multi-model ensembles (MME) have proven to be effective in increasing the accuracy of simulations in modelling experiments. However, the ability of MME to capture crop responses to changes in sowing dates and densities has not yet been investigated. These management interventions are some of the main levers for adapting cropping systems to climate change. Here, we explore the performance of a MME of 29 wheat crop models to predict the effect of changing sowing dates and rates on yield and yield components, on two sites located in a high-yielding environment in New Zealand. The experiment was conducted for 6 years and provided 50 combinations of sowing date, sowing density and growing season. We show that the MME simulates seasonal growth of wheat well under standard sowing conditions, but fails under early sowing and high sowing rates. The comparison between observed and simulated in-season fraction of intercepted photosynthetically active radiation (FIPAR) for early sown wheat shows that the MME does not capture the decrease of crop above ground biomass during winter months due to senescence. Models need to better account for tiller competition for light, nutrients, and water during vegetative growth, and early tiller senescence and tiller mortality, which are exacerbated by early sowing, high sowing densities, and warmer winter temperatures.