LW-R-1: Adaptation of management rhythms

The picture shows a farmer standing in a field looking after a tractor sowing.Click to enlarge
Farmers respond to changed climate conditions by adapting their management plans.
Source: Photograph: © Dusan Kostic / stock.adobe.com

2019 Monitoring Report on the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change

Table of Contents


LW-R-1: Adaptation of management rhythms

With regard to individual management operations for crop cultivation, farmers respond by scheduling these tasks according to changing weather patterns. Maize cultivation was brought forward by approximately five days in the course of the past forty years. The trend is significant.

The line graph shows the mean time of the start of maize planting as a calendar day from 1970 to 2017. The time series shows a significant downward trend with slight fluctuations between years.
LW-R-1: Adaptation of management rhythms

The line graph shows the mean time of the start of maize planting as a calendar day from 1970 to 2017. The time series shows a significant downward trend with slight fluctuations between years.

Source: DWD (phenological observation network)

Adaptation of management planning

Owing to changes in seasonal weather patterns associated with climate change, farmers are forced to adapt their management planning accordingly. The most favourable times for tilling, sowing and harvesting as well as the application of fertiliser and pesticides have to be redetermined specifically for every year. Both direct and indirect effects of weather patterns have to be taken into account in scheduling various management operations. As far as the direct effect of weather is concerned, it is for example important to determine the most favourable time for tilling, and this timing is heavily dependent on soil moisture. Another example is the scheduling of sowing in spring, because specific crops such as maize must not be sown until the soil has reached a certain temperature. With regard to indirect effects of changed weather patterns it is understood that they play a role in the choice of crops and varieties or crop rotation made by farmers in response to changing climatic circumstances.

Such adaptation practices are basically nothing new in agriculture, as these challenges have always had to be addressed in carrying out management operations which had to respond to the seasons and phenological development phases of crop species. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that the incidence of unpredictable weather patterns is on the increase. In order to guard against the consequences of extreme weather events, to avoid erosion, and to safeguard the replenishment of water and nutrients in dry periods, farmers have to maintain high infiltration rates as well as storage capacity for water and nutrients and good aggregate structure in the soil. It is vital to maintain the organic matter in the soil and, where necessary, to increase its contents as required for a specific location. Stabilising measures on individual farms can include cultivation of catch crops, nurse crops, various species combinations, incorporation of harvest remnants, cultivation of perennial crops, organic fertilisation and adaptation of soil tillage. At a higher organisation level, the following elements are considered essential for adapting agriculture to climate change: Feed and farm manure cooperations, the integration and utilisation of perennial fodder plants in crop rotations, the conservation of grassland, the stability of mixed livestock- cum-arable farms as well as ecological farming and landscaping (e.g. agroforestry systems, contour management, beetle banks).

Apart from data on temporal changes in the development of plants, the GWS ‘s nationwide phenological observation network also collates data on changes in management operations carried out in respect of agricultural crops. Depending on the management operation concerned, the effects on scheduling vary. Apart from weather patterns, there are usually several other factors to be considered. Of greatest relevance is the selection of varieties and crop rotation. Sowing can only commence after the previous crop cultivated as part of the crop rotation has been removed. Organisational requirements in individual farming businesses may also play a crucial role. Depending on the cultivated area and the extent of a farm’s own machinery or the contractor’s machinery, management operations may have to be rescheduled. In other words, the rescheduling of management operations in agriculture is not exclusively dependent on weather patterns. Nevertheless, relevant observations may provide useful pointers for the adaptation of management plans.

The cultivation of maize crops usually takes place in the course of April and May. In spring any effects from management operations will be comparatively minor, and the influence of weather patterns play a more important role at that time, rather than at a time when management operations are scheduled for summer and autumn. In those cases, weather effects can for instance influence the frost decomposition of catch crops. In cases where this cannot be safeguarded, additional work may be necessary in the preparation of seedbeds for the maize main crop.

In the past forty years maize cultivation was always started earlier. Of course, there are distinct differences from year to year, but the trend shows a significant trend towards increasingly earlier cultivation. For example in the 1970s and 1980s, cultivation was carried out preferably between late April and early May. After 2000 cultivation took place on average approximately one week earlier, in some years even in mid-April.



LW-I-1: Agrophenological phase shifts

BO-R-1: Humus content of arable land