Agriculture as a victim and contributor to climate change

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Agriculture as a victim and contributor to climate change
Agriculture as a victim and contributor to climate change

Agriculture: Sufferers and contributors

While climatic extremes such as heavy rain, hail or heat waves directly trigger crop losses, some of the consequences of warming have a more subtle and long-term effect: Farmers have to deal with previously unknown pests, find alternative irrigation methods - and in some cases grow new plant varieties.


Cover story: Germany in climate change

  • Mike Beckers: Germany in climate change
  • Andreas Bolte: The great conversion of the forest
  • Ralf Weisse: Coasts under pressure
  • Rita Adrian and Benjamin M. Kraemer: Spotlight on lakes and rivers

How temperatures and precipitation behave over the course of the year determines sowing and planting times, growth, harvest times and the dormant period when the plants do not grow. It also depends on how much water is available, the structure of the soil, where pests and plant diseases occur and how they spread - and ultimately the yield and quality of the crop. The weather conditions fluctuate from year to year, to which agriculture is adapted and adapts with flexible production cycles. However, as climate change progresses, temperatures and precipitation change more drastically over the course of the year and the fluctuations sometimes become so severe that conventional production methods reach their limits. Heat and dry periods, continuous and heavy rain are already occurring more frequently; they can destroy entire crops and degrade areas of land. Meteorological extremes have also occurred in Germany in recent years, such as the heat and drought in 2018 and 2019. As a result, arable farms in many places have reaped lower harvests, for example of wheat, barley and rapeseed. Dairy farms had produced too little of their own forage due to reduced growth on grassland, and the dairy cows suffered from heat stress. The extreme drought also led to increased wind erosion, and wildfires broke out in central and north-eastern Germany.

Even if we manage to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement, this will already have far-reaching effects on agriculture in Germany. The September 2018 IPCC special report on the consequences of global warming of 1.5 degrees shows how much smaller these are compared to a warming of 2 degrees, which is already having very drastic consequences. In the Impact2C project, we worked with around 80 experts from all over Europe to model and work out the changes to be expected, which means two additional degrees for different areas such as agriculture, water management or forests in Europe. Among other things, we have estimated how vulnerable various crops are to warming. Wheat – which makes up almost half of the grain produced in Europe – has a medium to high “vulnerability” in Germany, so it would grow much worse under the new conditions. A similar picture emerges for barley. Farmers therefore have to think about how they can make their fields fit for the future…

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