Adaptation: Field of Action Agriculture

Field with farming tailer - a single spike in the foregroundClick to enlarge
Changes in precipitation pattern due to climate change affect agriculture.
Source: suze /

Agriculture is particularly affected by the effects of climate change. Appropriate adaptation measures can curb yield losses and make an important contribution to climate protection.

Ecosystem measures

Ecosystem measures are of particular importance for adaptation to climate change in agriculture. This includes measures that have positive effects on other environmental goods. For example, mulch sowing and waiver of ploughing or conservation tillage can reduce evaporation and have other positive effects on soil fertility. The risk of erosion is also reduced.

By cultivating changing plant species in one field - the crop rotation - the building up of humus is promoted, which increases soil fertility and enables increased carbon storage. A further measure to build up humus is the cultivation of catch crops.
This also allows surplus nitrogen to be bound, which, when applied excessively, pollutes the soil and groundwater and allows nitrous oxide, which is particularly harmful to the climate, to escape into the atmosphere.
In addition, it can provide year-round ground cover to counteract the increased evaporation caused by rising temperatures. Mulch, for example, is also suitable as a protection against evaporation as mowed off plant parts remain on the mowed area. In addition, precipitation can seep away more easily, thus preventing flooding.

Wind erosion is a challenge for soil conservation. In addition to the measures already mentioned, agroforestry is also effective for this purpose, that is the mixture of agricultural crops and tree rows in alternation. This improves the water retention capacity through higher soil carbon contents, the local microclimate and biodiversity.

Technical measures

For adaptation to climate change in agriculture, particularly technical measures that improve weather forecasts and warning systems are relevant. They enable farmers to adapt to weather changes and extreme events and initiate protective measures early.

Plants and animals can also be directly protected by various technical measures. For example, fruit trees or vines can be protected from hail damage with nets. Additional hail insurance is recommended for particularly valuable crops. Additional irrigation of plants can cover the increasing water demand in hot weather. Here, an adapted drip irrigation which saves water resources is recommended. In order to protect livestock from heat, stables can be equipped with sufficient thermal insulation and bright roof surfaces.

Wide tires and tire pressure adjustment technology for agricultural machines can also reduce the risk of soil compaction.

Legal, political and management measures

Both the federal government and the EU are promoting adaptation measures in agriculture. At the European level, for example, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) serves as a funding instrument designed to improve the quality of life in rural areas and increase the diversity of the rural economy. In Germany, such projects are financed through the joint task "Improvement of the agricultural structure and coastal protection" (GAK). In particular, the GAK is responsible for promoting the irrigation infrastructure.

Furthermore, the German government is focusing on improving information and networking among the players involved in adapting agriculture to climate change: knowledge transfer with regard to adapted land management, animal husbandry, nutrition and health is being promoted, for example in the context of dialogue projects with experts, and is to be strengthened by agricultural pilot farms testing climate adaptation measures on site. In addition, breeding programs for climate-adapted crop plants and livestock breeds are to be set up and the topic is to be increasingly integrated into education and training as well as agricultural consulting.

In addition, various management measures are being pursued in Germany. The aim should be to achieve a soil-conserving and water-saving agriculture in order to conserve natural resources. 
By changing the sowing dates, for example, the shifting of seasons can be countered: Summer crops could be sown earlier to take advantage of the soil moisture of spring. Winter crops, on the other hand, should be sown later in the year so that the cold period, which is important for the crop, does not occur too late. In the transition periods, the use of deep-rooted crops, such as grasses, can reduce the risk of summer drought damage and protect the soil against erosion.

The selection of seeds should also be adapted to climate changes. Above all, varieties that are less susceptible to drought stress and generally prove to be robust against pests and climate fluctuations are suitable for effectively counteracting climate change. In general, a diverse range of cultivars and the use of more robust varieties and crops that can cope better with drought stress can reduce the risk of crop failure.
In addition, climate changes also allow the introduction of crops that have hardly been cultivated in Germany to date. Particularly suitable are certain types of corn, millet and other heat-loving species that use water effectively. For example, the cultivation of soybeans has expanded significantly in Germany in recent years. 

Fertilizer management and plant protection must also be adapted to the changed conditions.

Pasture management measures should be applied to animal husbandry: by reducing the number of livestock on pastureland as well as short or night grazing, dried and eaten meadows can be prevented and the animals can be protected from heat stress. In addition, the sowing of drought-tolerant grasses can ensure the greening of pastures. Since climate change is accompanied by increasing heat stress, increased infection pressure and less favorable and varying feed and nutrient supply, the breeding of robust, adaptable and disease-resistant livestock plays a decisive role.

With advancing climate change, it may also become necessary for animal production to adapt the regulatory and funding framework to the changed conditions. This concerns, for example, the regulations for animal housing (insulation, ventilation) or the adaptation of regulations for organic farming (adaptation of grazing periods during extreme heat periods).