Pan-European crop modelling with EPIC: Implementation, up-scaling and regional crop yield validation
Justifiable usage of large-scale crop model simulations requires transparent, comprehensive and spatially extensive evaluations of their performance and associated accuracy. Simulated crop yields of a Pan-European implementation of the Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) crop model were satisfactorily evaluated with reported regional yield data from EUROSTAT for four major crops, including winter wheat, rainfed and irrigated maize, spring barley and winter rye. European-wide land use, elevation, soil and daily meteorological gridded data were integrated in GIS and coupled with EPIC. Default EPIC crop and biophysical process parameter values were used with some minor adjustments according to suggestions from scientific literature. The model performance was improved by spatial calculations of crop sowing densities, potential heat units, operation schedules, and nutrient application rates. EPIC performed reasonable in the simulation of regional crop yields, with long-term averages predicted better than inter-annual variability: linear regression R2 ranged from 0.58 (maize) to 0.91 (spring barley) and relative estimation errors were between ±30% for most of the European regions. The modelled and reported crop yields demonstrated similar responses to driving meteorological variables. However, EPIC performed better in dry compared to wet years. A yield sensitivity analysis of crop nutrient and irrigation management factors and cultivar specific characteristics for contrasting regions in Europe revealed a range in model response and attainable yields. We also show that modelled crop yield is strongly dependent on the chosen PET method. The simulated crop yield variability was lower compared to reported crop yields. This assessment should contribute to the availability of harmonised and transparently evaluated agricultural modelling tools in the EU as well as the establishment of modelling benchmarks as a requirement for sound and ongoing policy evaluations in the agricultural and environmental domains.
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