France France France France

Agriculture and Horticulture France

Agriculture and horticulture in numbers


Agriculture accounts for only a small part of gross domestic production (GDP) in Europe, and it is considered that the overall vulnerability of the European economy to changes that affect agriculture is low (1). However, agriculture is much more important in terms of area occupied (farmland and forest land cover approximately 90 % of the EU's land surface), and rural population and income (2).

Vulnerabilities France

The agricultural sector, the main user of water resources, with 48% of total consumption in France, will be particularly affected by the impact of climate change on resources (18). Crop yield projections under climate change scenarios for France vary across studies due to the application of different models, assumptions and emissions scenarios. However, generally, projections imply yield gains for wheat and yield losses for maize, with climate change:

  • For a range of crops, yield projections and feasibility of cropping area was estimated (under A1B emissions). The main conclusion is that on average maize yields were projected to decrease but yields for wheat (soft and durum) and other crops were projected to increase. Yield and quality of grapes for wine was extremely variable depending on the characteristics of the site and growing system considered (12).
  • For five climate change projections from five GCMs the effects of climate change on crop productivity and food security was assessed (under A1B emissions). For Western Europe a maize yield loss of around 40% was projected, relative to the baseline (1961-1990) in the absence of adaptation and mitigation strategies (13).
  • Relative changes in crop yield were simulated for sunflower, soybean, spring wheat and durum wheat for a global mean warming of 2°C warmer than present (A2 socioeconomics scenario). The study accounted for changes in extreme events such as droughts and the CO2 fertilisation effect. The results indicate that for the 2030-2060 time horizon, yield gains were on average expected for sunflower and durum wheat on application of certain adaptation methods (14).
  • The PESETA project estimated the impacts of climate change on crop yields for different regions in the EU for  the 2070-2100 time horizon (using a combination of two GCMs and SRES emissions scenarios A2 and B2). Crop yield simulations (winter wheat, spring wheat, rice, grassland, maize and soybeans) for the end of the century indicate a general decline in crop yields, especially in the western and south-western parts of the country  (15).
  • Model results for France indicate that the balance is more towards declining suitability than improving suitability in the early part of the 21st century, and this increases further over time particularly in the A1B scenario (16).
  • For France, the change of crop yield in 2080 referred to 1990 has been estimated based on several combinations of models and scenarios; the outcomes range from a 6.1% decrease to a 2.6% increase (3).

Observed climatic impact on wheat yield

The impact of climate change in recent decades on winter wheat yields has been studied for two wheat producing regions that are critical for the global market—the Picardy Region of northern France and the Rostov Oblast of southern Russia (19). In 2006, these regions produced approximately 1.4% of the total world production that year (20). As a whole, Russia and France are currently the fourth and fifth largest wheat producing countries in the world (21). In both breadbaskets, minimum and maximum temperatures significantly increased, and precipitation at annual and seasonal temporal scales significantly decreased over recent history. Between 1973 and 2010, summer precipitation totals decreased by 61% and maximum summer temperatures increased by 4 °C in Rostov, while fall precipitation totals decreased by 9% and maximum spring temperatures increased by 2.4 °C in Picardy (19).

The climate variables that exhibited significant historical trends were often not the climate drivers that winter wheat yields were strongly correlated with in Rostov. Therefore, it appears that recent climate change has not significantly impacted winter wheat yield trends thus far in the region. However, in Picardy, there was partial overlap in the climate variables that winter wheat yields were most responsive to and those that have already exhibited significant changes over time. Consequently, climate change has likely caused an 11% decrease in winter wheat yield trends in the region (19). The 11% decrease in yield trends as a result of climate change is in line with conclusions from previous research that the changing climate has negatively affected winter wheat yields in the country; climate change may be responsible for the yield stagnation that has been observed there (22).

Risks and opportunities for managed grasslands

Grasslands are one of the most widespread vegetation types worldwide. In France, they cover 45% of the agricultural land area, with 80% of these grasslands being permanent (24). During this century, in terms of mean impacts, drainage and forage quality are projected to decline, whereas annual forage provisioning is positively affected, with opportunities of high spring and late fall forage production (23).

Spring growth can benefit from warming and increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, provided that water resources are available to support vegetation. The greatest opportunity concerns winter production that may benefit from mild climate conditions, thus allowing for extension of the grazing season and reduction of forage requirements. Such a perspective could contribute to improve the farm’s degree of forage autonomy and security of livestock systems when facing more hazardous climate conditions. Less favourable conditions will likely be met in summer as drier conditions in the far future were estimated, in most cases, to counteract the benefit received from warming and, in a few cases, to lead to significant forage losses (23). The southern half, and especially the peri-Mediterranean arc will see its vulnerability increase due to more frequent droughts in summer, with strong consequences on the profitability of livestock farming (18).

The instability in summer yield, combined to increased herbage productivity in spring and winter, can create important changes in livestock farming systems. Forage resource usually stored for animal at barn during the cold season could be partly redistributed in summer to deal with increased risk of forage deficits (23).

The world food system in 2080

The world food system in the twenty-first century has been assessed, under various future scenarios of population, economic growth and climate change, addressing the questions: what are the likely impacts of climate change on the world’s agricultural resources? How do climate impacts compare to socioeconomic pressures over this century? Where and how do significant interactions arise? According to the authors, a fully coherent, unified data and modelling system has been used for the first time (11).

For the developed nations under all climate projections an expansion of potential land suitable for crop cultivation in 2080 with respect to 1990 was predicted, mainly in North America (40% increase over the 360 million hectares under current baseline climate); northern Europe (16% increase over current 45 million hectares); Russian Federation (64% increase over 245 million hectares) and in East Asia (10% increase over 150 million hectares) (11).

Model results indicated that agriculture in developed countries as a group would benefit under climate change. Agricultural GDP mostly increases in the Former Soviet Union (up to 23% in scenario A2); while only Western Europe loses agricultural GDP, across all GCM scenarios. Model results indicated decreases in agricultural GDP in most developing regions, with the exception of Latin America (11).

According to these scenarios the developing countries will become more dependent on net cereal imports. Climate change will add to this dependence, increasing net cereal imports of developing regions by 10–40% across GCM climate projections (11).

Reliability quantification future agricultural productivity

At present, the aggregate impacts of climate change on large-scale agricultural productivity cannot be reliably quantified for several reasons (17):

  • most current studies omit potentially important aspects such as extreme events and changes in pests and diseases;
  • there is a lack of clarity on how climate change impacts on drought are best quantified from an agricultural perspective, with different metrics giving very different impressions of future risk;
  • some regional agriculture depends on remote rainfall, snowmelt and glaciers, and  these factors are rarely taken into account;
  • most studies focus solely on the impacts of local climate change on rain-fed agriculture, whereas irrigated agricultural land produces approximately 40-45 % of the world’s food (Doll and Siebert 2002), and the water for irrigation is often extracted from rivers which can depend on climatic conditions far from the point of extraction;
  • indirect impacts via sea level rise, storms and diseases have also not been quantified;
  • there is high uncertainty in the extent to which the direct effects of CO2 rise on plant physiology will interact with climate change in affecting productivity.

Vulnerabilities Europe - Climate change not main driver

Socio-economic factors and technological developments

Climate change is only one driver among many that will shape agriculture and rural areas in future decades. Socio-economic factors and technological developments will need to be considered alongside agro-climatic changes to determine future trends in the sector (2).

From research it was concluded that socio-economic assumptions have a much greater effect on the scenario results of future changes in agricultural production and land use then the climate scenarios (4).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (5).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (4). It has been estimated that changes in the productivity of food crops in Europe over the period 1961–1990 were strongest related to technology development and that effects of climate change were relatively small. For the period till 2080 an increase in crop productivity for Europe has been estimated between 25% and 163%, of which between 20% and 143% is due to technological development and 5-20% is due to climate change and CO2 fertilisation. The contribution of climate change just by itself is approximately a minor 1% (6).

Care should be taken, however, in drawing firm conclusions from the apparent lack of sensitivity of agricultural land use to climate change. At the regional scale there are winners and losers (in terms of yield changes), but these tend to cancel each other out when aggregated to the whole of Europe (4).

Future changes in land use

If technology continues to progress at current rates then the area of agricultural land would need to decline substantially. Such declines will not occur if there is a correspondingly large increase in the demand for agricultural goods, or if political decisions are taken either to reduce crop productivity through policies that encourage extensification or to accept widespread overproduction (4).

Cropland and grassland areas (for the production of food and fibre) may decline by as much as 50% of current areas for some scenarios. Such declines in production areas would result in large parts of Europe becoming surplus to the requirement of food and fibre production (4). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (7).

Although it is difficult to anticipate how this land would be used in the future, it seems that continued urban expansion, recreational areas (such as for horse riding) and forest land use would all be likely to take up at least some of the surplus. Furthermore, whilst the substitution of food production by energy production was considered in these scenarios, surplus land would provide further opportunities for the cultivation of bioenergy crops (4).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (8). In the Biofuels Progress Report (9), it is estimated that in 2020, the total area of arable land required for biofuel production will be between 7.6 million and 18.3 million hectares, equivalent to approximately 8% and 19% respectively of total arable land in 2005.

The agricultural area of Europe has already diminished by about 13% in the 40 years since 1960 (4).

Adaptation strategies - France

In the national strategy of France the following adaptation measures are recommended (18):

Field crops:

  • diversify the crop systems, enabling “evasion”, “avoidance” and “tolerance” to be combined;
  • increase the duration of vegetation in order to enable the succession of summer-winter crops.


  • extend use to adjustment areas if these exist (summer at altitude) or create these areas;
  • reanalyse the long-term water management policies in order to improve the irrigation of small areas;
  • help implement adaptation actions within the framework of collective contracts;
  • anticipate the consequences of climate change on livestock and adapt, in particular, farm buildings in order to limit the impacts of heatwave on animal performance.

Besides, it is recommended to utilize drought-resistant plant species/cultivars and new grass-legume associations to cope with summer droughts, since grassland irrigation is not of common use in France (with only a few exceptions in the Mediterranean districts (25)).

Adaptation strategies - The world food system in 2080

The world food system in the twenty-first century has been assessed, under various future scenarios of population, economic growth and climate change. Results suggest that socioeconomic development over this century will greatly alter production, trade, distribution and consumption of food products worldwide, as a consequence of population growth, economic growth, and diet changes in developing countries. Climate change will additionally modify agricultural activities, probably increasing any gaps between developing and developed countries. Adaptation strategies, both on-farm and via market mechanisms, will be important contributors to limiting the severity of impacts (11).

At the global level simulation results indicate only small percentage changes from the baseline reference case with respect to cereal-production. It is suggested that two levels of adaptation considered in the simulations, i.e. autonomous adaptation at the field level, such as changing of crop calendars and cropping systems as a function of climate; and market adjustments at both regional (re-distribution of capital, labour and land) and global (trade) levels, can successfully combine to reduce otherwise larger negative impacts (11).

Additional climate change pressures may arise, however, by changes in the frequency of extreme precipitation events such as floods and droughts, which may diminish the capacity of countries to adapt, especially in poor tropical regions (11).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for France.

  1. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  2. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  3. EEA (2003)
  4. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  5. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  6. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  7. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  8. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  9. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  10. Ciscar et al. (2009), in: Behrens et al. (2010)
  11. Fischer et al. (2005)
  12. Brisson and Levrault (2010), in: UK Met Office (2011)
  13. Arnell et al. (2010a), in: UK Met Office (2011)
  14. Moriondo et al. (2010), in: UK Met Office (2011)
  15. Ciscar et al. (2009), Iglesias et al. (2009), both in: UK Met Office (2011)
  16. UK Met Office (2011)
  17. Gornall et al. (2010), in: UK Met Office (2011)
  18. ONERC (2007/2009)
  19. Licker et al. (2013)
  20. FAO (2009, 2012); Agreste Picardie (2008), all in: Licker et al. (2013)
  21. FAO (2011), in: Licker et al. (2013)
  22. Brisson et al. (2010), in: Licker et al. (2013)
  23. Graux et al. (2013)
  24. Agreste (2009), in: Graux et al. (2013)
  25. Faidherbe et al. (2007); Volaire (2008); Volaire et al. (2009), all in: Graux et al. (2013)