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 /

The impacts of climate change on agriculture vary significantly, depending on the respective region. In the central mountain areas and in Northern Germany, higher temperatures allow for longer growing seasons, while increasing droughts may lead to a decline in agricultural yields in East and Southwest Germany. An appropriate adaptation measure can be, for instance, the selection of new crops.

Technical measures

Especially technical measures that improve weather forecasts and warning systems are relevant for adaptation to climate change in the agricultural sector. They enable farmers to prepare for weather changes and extreme weather events and to take protective measures.

Plants and animals can also be protected directly through technical measures, especially against extreme weather events. Putting up nets above fruit trees or vines protect them from damage due to hail. An additional hail insurance is recommended for particularly valuable crops. Watering plants during heat periods can meet the increasing demand for water. Customised drip irrigation can also help to save water. In order to protect livestock from heat, stables can be equipped with sufficient thermal insulation and light roof surfaces.

Ecosystem measures

Ecosystem measures are of particular importance for climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector. Adjusting sowing dates can be a suitable means to react to the shift of seasons: summer grain should be sown earlier in order to benefit from the moist soil in spring. Winter grain, however, should be sown later in the year, to ensure that the cold period, which is of crucial importance for the crop, does not occur too late. During transition phases, the use of deep-rooted crops, such as grasses, can reduce the risk of drought damage in the summer and protect the soil against erosion.

Also the selection of the seeds should be adapted to climate changes. Especially those species that are less susceptible to drought stress and generally prove to be robust against pests and climate fluctuations are likely to respond to climate change effectively. In addition, the climate changes also allow the introduction of fruit species that have so far rarely been cultivated in Germany. Certain varieties of maize, millet and other heat-loving species that have high water use efficiency are particularly suitable.

The increased concentration of CO2 in the air has the effect that C3 plants such as wheat or potatoes that are very common in Germany grow faster and it increases their water use efficiency. A decreased tillering density can reduce drought stress, while a diversification of crops can reduce the risk of severe crop losses.
Ecosystem measures are relevant for animal husbandry, too: through appropriate breeding measures, livestock species can be adapted to climate change. Such measures can, for example, help to improve their heat tolerance and resistance to parasites and diseases. Moreover, the introduction of new breeds and crossbreeds has to be taken into consideration. In addition, planting drought-tolerant grasses can ensure the greening of meadows.

Legal, political and management measures

Both the federal government and the EU promote adaptation measures in agriculture. At the European level, for example, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is a financing instrument, which is meant to increase the quality of life in rural areas and promote the diversity of the rural economy. In Germany, the financing of such projects is organised by the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK). Especially the promotion of the irrigation infrastructure is carried out by the GAK.

In addition, the federal government relies on a networking of actors in order to adapt agriculture to climate change: The transfer of knowledge on adapted land management, animal husbandry, nutrition and health is promoted, for example, in the context of dialogue projects with experts.

In addition, various management measures are pursued in Germany: A soil-conserving and water-saving agriculture can counteract crop losses due to changes in precipitation amounts and the resulting changes of the groundwater and soil water balance. Possible alternatives for the efficient use of water include the mulching process in which mowed plant parts are shredded and left on the mown area or the plough-less tillage. Compared with conventional methods, the use of both processes reduces the water consumption through evaporation, reduces erosion risks and the release of carbon. In addition, rain can drain away better which thus prevents floods.

Also fertilising management and plant protection have to be adapted to the changing conditions. In order to ensure a more environmentally sound and need-based fertilisation, the share of nitrogen in fertilisers should increase along with the increasing amount of CO2 in the air. However, at the same time it has to be balanced with the rising water needs of plants that results from the additional nitrogen. If this is the case, higher yields can be realised. In addition, threats posed by (new) pests must be recognised and banned as early as possible.

In the context of livestock husbandry, meadow management measures should be employed to meet the impacts of climate change. Measures such as adjusting the use intensity or shorter or nocturnal grazing can prevent arid and cropped meadows and protect animals from heat stress.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action agriculture, please click here.