Germany Germany Germany Germany

Agriculture and Horticulture Germany

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 (19). 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 (20).


Following France and Italy, Germany is the third largest producer of agricultural goods in the European Union. In 2004, approximately 372,400 farms operated in Germany. In 2004, an estimated number of 1.27 million workers were employed full- or parttime in German agriculture (6). The contribution of agriculture to gross national product is, however, only approximately 1% (7).

In Germany, 53% of the surface area is used for agriculture. Of this land, 29% are grassland and 69% are cropland. The main products produced on croplands are wheat for bread making, barley for fodder and industrial use, as well as other fodder crops (clover, lupine etc.). Four percent of the arable area is under organic farming (8). The proportion of arable land used to grow renewable primary products was approximately 6% in 2004, and has doubled since 1998 (6).

In the last fifty years, agricultural yields in Germany have increased steadily and more than tripled since 1950. This development can be observed worldwide and is mainly a consequence of technological progress (10). This includes progress in the development of new seeds, improvements in plant protection, new and improved sowing, cultivation and harvest techniques and enhanced fertilization (3).

Vulnerabilities Germany - Climate change not main driver

The German agricultural sector is under pressure. The reduction of market supporting measures (e.g. subsidies), increasing globalisation, eastward enlargement of the EU and the liberalisation of prices since the EU agricultural reform (1992) and Agenda 2000 (1999) come with considerable economic risks to farmers. These developments caused strong competition and declining prices, which led to a destabilisation of incomes in agriculture (9). In the last decades, this pressure caused a reduction in the number of farms by an average of 3% per year, while farm size grew continuously (6).

The most significant land-use change Germany will experience is the abandonment of agricultural areas. The extent of this abandonment will depend on socio-economic conditions. The area of agricultural land is projected to decrease in the 21st century by approximately 12%-25%, depending on the scenario of future economic developments (3).

Vulnerabilities Germany - Drier summers

Decreasing summer precipitation will probably lead to degraded agricultural conditions especially in central eastern and southwestern regions, which already suffer from unfavorable water balances under present conditions. Moreover, nationwide yield losses will most likely be caused by the expected increase in climate variability and by the increase in weather extremes (1,3). However, moderate temperature increase and sufficient water supply would increase the yield potential of many crop types (3).

Crops are especially susceptible to damage when stresses from weather extremes occur during sensitive growth phases, such as leaf formation, flowering or fruit development and ripening. The consequences of spring droughts can thus be more serious than those of summer droughts. In addition, damage from more-frequent heavy rainfall and hailstorms could increase. In fruit cultivation especially, earlier flowering could increase frost risks (2).

The vulnerability of agriculture to climate change without further specific adaptation measures is considered “moderate” in most of Germany, and “high” only in the Eastern German regions that are prone to drought and often have poor soils (3).

The year 2003 with it hot and dry summer was the year with the strongest yield losses in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany (11). Across Germany, the yields per hectare were approximately 12% below multiple year averages. Regionally, the damages were distributed very heterogeneously. While Schleswig-Holstein, with its generally cool and moist climate, profited in the warm and dry year of 2003 with an increase in yields by 7.9%, Brandenburg was the federal state that was most severely hit, with yield losses of 40% compared to multiple year averages (12). Total damage was approximately €600 million (13).

The year 2003 also showed how important local conditions are for the sensitivity to climate extremes. Regions that are less suitable for agricultural use were most severely hit by yield losses, e.g. regions with poor soils of low water retention capacity (sandy soils), an unfavourable climatic water balance and high summer temperatures. Such regions are found primarily in the federal state Brandenburg, parts of Saxony, as well as parts of Southwestern Germany (3).

Currently there are no explicit scenarios of crop yield across the whole of Germany. For example, more explicit scenarios, which account for possibly insufficient water supply, are available for the Elbe watershed. Model runs estimated decreases in yield of wheat, rye and barley by 9% to 14% by the year 2055, under the assumption of a temperature increase by 1.4 ºC and a decrease in annual precipitation by 10%. This was mainly caused by insufficient water supply in summer. According to these scenarios only maize, as a thermophilic plant profiting from temperature increase and with good water use efficiency, did not exhibit any impairment and showed regional yield increases in areas with good water supply (14).

Similarly, for Baden-Württemberg the assumption of decreased precipitation in summer leads to a decrease in wheat yield by 14% by 2055. This was caused by insufficient water supply, but also by negative impacts of temperature increase (shortening the phase of grain maturation) (15).

Climate variations from year to year and climatic extremes possibly pose the greatest threat to agriculture. Results from regional climate models indicate that inter-annual variability of temperature and precipitation will distinctly increase in future in Europe, particularly in summer (16). Climate variations hamper adaptation and have regularly led to yield losses in the past.

Vulnerabilities Germany - Higher temperatures

In general, increasing temperatures increase photosynthesis and other metabolic processes, until a crop type specific temperature optimum is reached. Thermophilic crops that have not reached their optimum under current conditions (e.g. maize) can therefore bring higher yields under moderate warming. Moreover, higher winter temperatures decrease the risk of frost damages. However, when the optimum is surpassed, yields of all crop types decrease. Extreme temperatures can harm plants permanently (3).

Another effect of rising temperatures is the loss of organic carbon from soil due to an accelerated rate of decomposition and mineralization of organic material in agricultural soils. This loss of organic carbon decreases soil fertility and contributes to the greenhouse effect through emissions of carbon dioxide (3). Studies have shown that due to temperature increase by 2100, 20-30% of European soil carbon will be lost. A decrease of soil organic carbon by 40-60% is possible if climate change induced changes in crop productivity and expected land use changes are taken into account (17).

Vulnerabilities Germany - Higher CO2 concentrations

For so-called C3-plants, which comprise most of the German cultivated crop plants, the CO2-concentration of the air is suboptimal and a limiting growth factor. In C3-plants, an increase in atmospheric CO2-concentration therefore increases the rate of photosynthesis and increases yields. Field experiments showed an increase in wheat yield by up to 28% following a doubling of CO2-concentration (4). In Germany field experiments showed increases by 8-14% for winter barley, sugar beet, and winter wheat (5).

It is not yet clear if this increased yield would be sustained in the long term or if there will be a certain “acclimatisation effect”. For C4-plants (e.g. maize, millet) hardly any increase in yield is found, since these plants use CO2 more efficiently and experience optimal CO2-supply already under present conditions. Another important aspect of increased atmospheric CO2-concentration is the decrease in water use per unit biomass produced (improved water use efficiency).

CO2 fertilisation effects should not be overemphasised, however, since available water supplies will be the factor on which yields primarily depend. Furthermore, increasingly frequent weather extremes could present risks for agricultural production. As stresses from heat, cold, drought, wetness, heavy rainfall, wind and storms increase, significant harvest failures will have to be expected (2).

Vulnerabilities Germany - Diseases

The outbreaks of Bluetongue Disease, that have occurred since mid-August 2006, causing major economic losses, may be a result of climate change. The virus responsible for the disease formerly occurred in South Africa. It has been able to spread in Europe because it is also transmitted by endemic biting midges, as new research has found. Although it is still unclear how the virus was introduced, the unusual climatic conditions of the last two years prior to the disease outbreak are considered to be a factor in both the initial spread of the virus (by making it easier for the Bluetongue Disease virus to multiply in midges) and in the disease's "overwintering" (by not providing a vector-free period during the winter) (2).

An indirect threat of climate change to agriculture is the possible spread of plant pests and diseases, as well as the invasion with new pest species (18).

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 (28).

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) (28).

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 (28).

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 (28).

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 (20).

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 (22).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (23).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (22). 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% (24).

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 (22).

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 (22).

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 (22). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (25).

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 (22).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (26). In the Biofuels Progress Report (27), 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 (22).

Benefits and opportunities

The agriculture sector may possibly profit from the impacts of climate change, particularly in regions that presently are too cool or too wet for agricultural use (e.g. in Northern Germany) (3).

For Germany, the change of crop yield in 2080 referred to 1990 has been estimated based on several combinations of models and scenarios; the outcomes show an increase ranging from 1.7% - 7.1% (21).

Adaptation strategies

Currently German agriculture is only partly adapted to the impacts of climate change. In most federal states climate change does not seem to be considered in present planning, and measures that would also be suitable to adapt to climate change are mostly not yet fully implemented. However, agriculture can adapt relatively quickly to changing climate and weather conditions, and has done so again and again in the past (3).

The adaptation capacity of the German agriculture sector is considered fairly high. In particular, the use of new cultivars and new, adapted cultivation methods that maintain soil fertility and save water are promising options for addressing a wide range of uncertain impacts of climate change (1).

Changes in cultivation and management are adaptation measures available to German agriculture (2,3):

  • Change in sowing date: Summer cereals can be sowed earlier due to increasing temperatures. This brings the advantages of higher soil moisture levels in the early year, potentially increased yield through longer growth phase, and decreased risk from water stress. On the other hand, the risk of damages through late frosts increases. Winter cereal should be sowed later than currently customary, to avoid damages through a late onset of the cold phase, which is important for development (3);
  • Choice of suitable cultivars: These include cultivars that are less sensitive to drought stress. Generally, robust varieties with wide climatic tolerance and low susceptibility to pests should be preferred over sensitive high-performance cultivars (3);
  • Adaptation of crop rotation and introduction of new crop types: More suitable crop types should replace crop types that prove to be less suitable under changed climatic conditions. Thermophilic crop types with high water use efficiency seem especially suitable, such as e.g. some maize cultivars or millet. Diversification of the range of crop types lessens the risk of yield losses through climate extremes and damages through pest outbreaks (3);
  • Use of soil-fertility maintaining and water-saving management options: These include application of mulch and plough-less soil treatment. These practices lower water losses through transpiration, and decrease the release of carbon and the risk of erosion (3);
  • Adaptation of fertilisation and pest management: The use of fertilisers needs to be adapted to an increased demand for nitrogen with increasing CO2-content. On the other hand, increased nitrogen fertilisation increases water use, so that a suitable balance needs to be achieved. Pest management should take account of risks through new pest species early on. Integrated methods should be favoured. The choice of robust cultivars and a diverse range of crop types contribute to plant protection (3);
  • Cultivation of renewable primary resources for energy generation: This adaptation measure contributes to emission reduction, and is furthermore an alternative use for many agricultural areas in Germany that will probably cease to be needed for food and fodder production in the long term (3);
  • Financial safeguarding in the face of risks of yield losses plays an important role. In Germany, insurances for the agricultural sector are currently largely restricted to insurance against hail. Damages like the yield losses through the 2003 heat wave are only covered partly by federal ad hoc measures. The introduction of a “multiple risk insurance”, which has long been common practice in the USA, is an option for an expanded coverage of risks (3);
  • higher drought resistance and robustness of crop plants e.g. through breeding and genetic engineering (3);
  • expansion of irrigation systems, as well as improved water holding capacity of the soils (3);
  • targeted weather forecasts for farmers by meteorological services (3);
  • new crop rotation systems to minimise case specific, climate related risks, as well as increased cultivation of C4-plants to increase biomass production (3);
  • know-how transfer, especially with regard to adapted methods of cultivation, animal husbandry, animal nutrition and animal health (2);
  • the promotion of measures relevant to breeding and management methods in animal husbandry (2);
  • dialogue and knowledge exchanges with Länder experts (2);
  • monitoring of climate changes, to promote understanding of the need for adaptation measures (2);
  • promotion of innovation in plant breeding, within the context of an innovation programme (2).

The cultivation of new crop types requires additional knowledge, and the implementation of adapted irrigation techniques relies on financial support. Agricultural adaptive capacity will further depend on economic pressures. In this regard, smaller farms and farms in the less favourable areas in Eastern Germany need special support. If the adaptation measures are implemented, the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate change might be lessened to “low” (3).

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 (28).

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 (28).

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 (28).


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

  1. Swart et al. (2009)
  2. Government of the Federal Republic of Germany (2010)
  3. Zebisch et al. (2005)
  4. Downing et al. (2000), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  5. Manderscheid et al. (2003a,b), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  6. Federal Government (2005), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  7. Federal Statistical Office (2005b), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  8. Federal Statistical Office (2005a), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  9. Ortlof (1998), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  10. Hafner (2003), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  11. Sterzel (2004), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  12. BMVEL (2003), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  13. Federal Government (2004),in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  14. Wechsung et al. (2004), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  15. PIK (2005), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  16. Schär et al. (2004); Giorgi et al. (2004), both in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  17. Schröter et al. (2004), in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  18. Olesen and Bindi, 2002, in: Zebisch et al. (2005)
  19. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  20. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  21. EEA (2003)
  22. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  23. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  24. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  25. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  26. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  27. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  28. Fischer et al. (2005)