The development of crop varieties that are better suited to new climatic conditions is vital for future food production1, 2. Increases in mean temperature accelerate crop development, resulting in shorter crop durations and reduced time to accumulate biomass and yield3, 4. The process of breeding, delivery and adoption (BDA) of new maize varieties can take up to 30 years. Here, we assess for the first time the implications of warming during the BDA process by using five bias-corrected global climate models and four representative concentration pathways with realistic scenarios of maize BDA times in Africa. The results show that the projected difference in temperature between the start and end of the maize BDA cycle results in shorter crop durations that are outside current variability. Both adaptation and mitigation can reduce duration loss. In particular, climate projections have the potential to provide target elevated temperatures for breeding. Whilst options for reducing BDA time are highly context dependent, common threads include improved recording and sharing of data across regions for the whole BDA cycle, streamlining of regulation, and capacity building. Finally, we show that the results have implications for maize across the tropics, where similar shortening of duration is projected.