Netherlands Netherlands Netherlands Netherlands


Agriculture and Horticulture The Netherlands

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 (26). 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 (27).

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is the third exporter in the world, with a global export value of more than € 10 billion (1).

Vulnerabilities the Netherlands

Climate change not main driver

Dutch agriculture can often react flexible to changing climatic conditions; smaller yields in dry years will often be compensated by higher prices. Extreme weather is expected to have only a limited effect on the economic success of the sector (1). With respect to agriculture and other economic sectors, the effects of climate change are probably less important than those derived from other economic and societal developments (3).

Vulnerabilities - Overview

Possible effects of climate change for agriculture in the Netherlands are (3):

  • higher – but sometimes also lower – yields;
  • possibly different choices of crop;
  • sowing and harvesting problems, and glass and crop damage due to extreme rainfall (also with hail);
  • harvest losses due to insect and fungal pests;
  • night frost damage, particularly in the fruit-growing sector;
  • crop development difficulties due to pollination by insects no longer being synchronous;
  • consequences of land becoming brackish;
  • a lower energy bill in the horticulture (under glass) sector and a higher energy bill in the livestock sector due to the need to maintain cool animal housing;
  • less favourable production conditions in southern Europe and possibly more favourable conditions in Northern Europe.

Wetter winters

In the lower parts of the Netherlands, especially the peat grassland area (13), soils may become too wet in spring and autumn for soil management operations (sowing, planting, cultivation or fertilization) and harvest with the equipment and machinery currently used.

The loss of income and damage to the harvest due to extreme rainfall in the Netherlands in 1998 amounted to 600 M€ (12).

Drier summers

For the higher parts of the Netherlands, especially for arable land on sandy soils, crop yields may decrease due to expected decreased summer precipitation and an increased frequency of high-intensity rain showers (8,22). Among the most drought sensitive crops are summer vegetables, leaf vegetables, flower bulbs, fruit and tree crops. The potential gross yield of these crops may decrease by 9 to 38% due to drought stress (9).

The fen-meadow areas in the western part of the Netherlands experience several interconnected problems: the subsidence of farmland, water shortage during the dry summer period, excess water during wet periods and saline intrusion related to sea level rise (10). Groundwater levels are kept low in agricultural land. This results in accelerated oxidation of peat and soil subsidence. This effect amplifies the scattered pattern of groundwater levels between agricultural and natural areas (13).

Higher temperatures

The current average temperature in the Netherlands is about 1°C higher than it was at the start of the 20th century. This has led to a longer growing season: compared to the period 1961–1990, the growing season during the past 15 years has increased by an average of more than 3 weeks (3)

The growing season in southern Europe is becoming shorter for non-irrigated agriculture due to decreasing precipitation and increasing evaporation. Accordingly, the cultivation conditions for outdoor crops in north-western Europe are becoming more favourable, and over the long term the situation in southern Europe will become less favourable. The agricultural economic consequences of this are expected to be mainly negative in southern Europe and possibly positive for the more temperate regions (3).

Grain crops do not benefit from the higher temperature and longer growing season because grain ripens earlier and therefore the plants have less time to grow. With a rise of more than 2⁰C or 3⁰C the negative effect will be greater and the yield for agriculture as a whole will be less (3).

Little is known about how climate change might influence the chance of night frost. However, one disadvantage of early germination/budding is the greater risk of night frost damage in early spring. This risk is particularly high for fruit growers. Such was the case in the spring of 2005 in Flevoland. The damage was quite considerable because the night frost occurred fairly suddenly following a relatively warm period that had seen the initiation of blossoming, fruit formation and sap flow (3).

Higher CO2 concentrations

Climate change will likely lead to both positive and negative effects on agricultural production and the agricultural economic situation in the Netherlands. Factors that can give a positive effect are: the average higher CO2 concentration and temperature and the extension of the growing season; the worsening situation in the southern countries of Europe may also provide Dutch agriculture with extra market opportunities. The negative effects will increase as more extreme weather and climate conditions occur more frequently or persist for longer periods (water logging and drought) (3).

A doubling of the CO2 concentration can lead to a 15–20% increase in yield. A positive side effect of the higher CO2 concentration is the higher water efficiency. However, this effect is counteracted by the increased evaporation due to the higher temperature. Therefore, on balance, the total crop evaporation scarcely changes. Not all institutes subscribe to this analysis, and further field trials and laboratory research are needed to resolve the differences of opinion (3).

Research that has been carried out in 1998 into the effects of climate change on agricultural yields in the Netherlands has revealed that grass(land), sugar beet and winter wheat would benefit from the changing conditions but that the yield for silage maize would be lower. The results are the effects of a change in temperature and CO2 concentration, and a slightly higher precipitation (3).

The combined effect of an increasing CO2 concentration and a temperature rise of up to 2-3°C can lead to increased potential yields of wheat, seed, consumable and industrial potato and sugar beet in the Netherlands (6). Temperature increases beyond 3-4°C will negatively influence crop yields, except for maize (7).

Pests and diseases

'Blue-tongue' reached the Netherlands in 2006. As a result of climate change and international transports, outbreaks of other animal diseases that have not yet occurred in the Netherlands, are more likely in the future. The West Nile Virus and Rift Valley fever, diseases that are also dangerous to humans, will advance further and further into Europe - and thus to the Netherlands. The Netherlands are vulnerable to animal diseases because of high animal density, multiple transportations and many contacts abroad (1).

Changes in abundance and pressure of pest and diseases can locally have a dramatic effect on production levels. It is however unclear how these will develop (10).

Salt intrusion

Sea level rise will cause an increase of the salt water seepage in the coastal zones of the Netherlands, and an increase of the salt water intrusion in the main rivers in combination with lower river discharges in summer. Both types of salinization can harm salt sensitive crops in agriculture and horticulture. However, recent findings show that damage to crops due to salinization, in areas with a freshwater lens and well drained fields, are relatively low (24).

The agricultural areas in the provinces Groningen, Friesland, Noord- and Zuid-Holland are considered to be most sensitive to damage by salinization due to their dependency on the supply of fresh surface water (11).

Benefits and opportunities the Netherlands

The productivity of rainfed, arable crops in southern Europe may decrease due to shortening of the growing season as a result of decreasing precipitation and increasing evapotransipration. This may have a negative impact on yields in these regions, but positive effects on agricultural economic returns in northern European regions, among which the Netherlands (11).

Developing crops to cope with environmental stresses like saline conditions, drought, flooding and high temperatures offers opportunities for crop breeders and farmers. It is most likely to be important in keeping global food production on pace with the growing population. Other opportunities arise when new markets can be served e.g. the energy market (10).

For the Netherlands, 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 5.3% - 18.7% (28).

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 (35).

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) (35).

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 (35).

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 (35).

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 (27).

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 (29).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (30).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (29). 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% (31).

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 (29).

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 (29).

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 (2). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (32).

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 (29).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (33). In the Biofuels Progress Report (34), 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 (29).

Adaptation strategies

Researchers still debate on whether the residual negative impacts of climate change will remain problematic, or whether proper and timely application of new technology would allow for effective adaptation of agricultural production – at least in developed countries. For developing countries, adaptation may be more problematic. The recent food crisis illustrates the vulnerability of the food production system, in general, due to the combined and interacting effects of food shortages, climate influences, poorly aligned global policies, high energy prices, all aggravated by the economic crises and the emerging demand for bio-energy (2).

Strategic decisions at the farm level will have a timeframe of 1–5 years. Adaptation strategies that require changes in crop breeding, financial institutions or policy makers and industries will have a time horizon that is even further away and may be as long as 10 years (10).

The uncertainty in the magnitude, direction, and possible impacts of climate change remain the main obstacles in defining appropriate adaptation strategies. Applying the no-regrets and precautionary principle does allow for the formulation of integrated strategies in which climate change has a place among other issues. The urgency is not felt as changes in frequency and intensity of extreme events are not well recognized and understood (10).

Adjusting crop rotation schemes and planting and harvesting dates

The effects of the adjustment of crop rotation schemes and planting and harvesting dates are to minimize production losses and avoid decreased workability and trafficability in early spring and autumn when soils in the peat grassland area in the lower parts of the country become very wet. No quantitative information was found on the benefits of adjusting dates of planting and harvesting (13).

Choice of crop variety and genotype

The choice of crop variety and genotype which better resist saline conditions, wetness, drought, pests, diseases, frost and a shorter growing season is considered the most important adaptation strategy to climate change in the agricultural sector (14). Availability of the different varieties is not clear and we should be aware that it takes time to develop new crop varieties. Diversification at the crop level is a risk diverting strategy which is not yet fully explored. Information on local varieties is not always clear (10).

Development and growing of crops for biomass production

Opportunities related to this strategy are the combination of agriculture with other land functions, like water storage, erosion control, soil cleaning or the creation of attractive landscapes. Examples of such crops are (silage) beet resistant to salt and providing aminoacids and sugar, multi-annual oil or protein crops resistant to drought, and trees resistant to salinization or wetting while providing suitable construction wood and lignocellulose for biomass production (e.g. willows) (15).

Soil moisture conservation practices

Soil moisture conservation practices may serve as adaptation strategies to reduced rainfall during the summer period. Examples are conservation tillage methods. In conservation tillage, some or all the previous season’s crop residue is left on the soil surface. This may protect the soil from wind and water erosion and retain moisture by reducing evaporation and increasing infiltration. Increased soil organic matter will not only improve the water holding capacity but also improve soil structure.


Costs of the irrigation of arable crops (potato, sugar beet, wheat), vegetable crops (carrot, onion, sprout, cauliflower) and flower bulbs using surface water range from € 90,- to € 300,-/ha per year, assuming three irrigation gifts (16). … The increase in profit for the agricultural sector due to the reduction of water shortage, converted to the total area of agricultural land in the Netherlands, was estimated at 4 billion Euros per year.

A barrier to the use of irrigation as an adaptation strategy to climate change is the increasing difficulty for vegetable growers to meet quality demands given the expected increased frequency of dry summers and extreme rainfall events. Also, the extension of the area of irrigated crops enabled by improved irrigation management may result in an over-production of highly profitable crops, leading in turn to a decrease of their profitability (17).

Self sufficiency in production of roughage

The production of roughage in the Netherlands (wheat and silage beet) could be improved as a result of climate change, given optimised water management (18).

Water storage on farmland

Water storage on farmland is defined as the storage of excess water either in the soil under low groundwater conditions in open water like ditches, water courses, lakes and ponds or on the soil surface in case the soil and open water offer insufficient storage capacity. Water storage on farmland refers to overflow polders and retention areas, where the land remains property of the farmer and is used for temporary water storage (10).

Water storage is one of the blue services provided by the agricultural sector. Blue services are defined as voluntary contributions of private parties to legal assignments of water boards for compensations in conformance with the market (19).

Subsoil drainage of peatlands

Subsoil drainage is a recently introduced adaptation strategy to combat subsidence and oxidation of peat related to lowering of groundwater tables during periods of drought. Drainage tubes are laid out in the field perpendicularly to ditches, below the water level in the ditches. The water from ditches infiltrates into the subsoil with the purpose to increase the groundwater level. … The measures are put in place to continue with existing land use management and may only offer temporarily relieve as groundwater level for grassland and dairy farming still results in subsidence of peat (10).

Changes in farming systems

In many regions of Europe, including the Netherlands, farms have, in response to policy and market incentives, become highly specialized enterprises. Farms can also adapt to the constraints of climate change to the productivity by replacing part of their production activities by alternative, income generating activities like nature management and development, biological farming in water extraction areas, processing and sale of products on the farm, agro-tourism, health care (20).

In 1998, only 9% of the Dutch farms implemented these activities in their farm management (21). Besides income diversification, changes in crop e.g. move to biomass production or crop diversification are farm level strategies that could increase resilience and reduce vulnerability to external shocks (10).

Water management and agriculture

The fen-meadow areas in the western part of the Netherlands experiences several interconnected problems: the subsidence of farmland, water shortage during the dry summer period, excess water during wet periods and saline intrusion related to sea level rise (10).

Water level management involves the increase of ditch and groundwater levels, and is also referred to as ‘wetting of farmland’. This measure has the following benefits (10):

  • peak water discharges can be captured;
  • high groundwater levels can be maintained in adjacent nature areas;
  • a groundwater stock can be maintained at the start of the dry summer period;
  • soil subsidence due to the oxidation of peat is reduced.

The increase in profit for the agricultural sector due to the reduction of water shortage, converted to the total area of agricultural land in the Netherlands, was estimated at 1 billion Euros per year. A possible increase in the costs of damage due to the wetting of farmland is not taken into account in the estimation of benefits.

Regional adaptation strategies for the fen meadow area

The relatively low groundwater levels of agricultural land in the fen meadow areas result in the sinking down of water from natural areas in polders. Water basins between the polders and the natural areas help to reduce further subsidence of the fen meadow areas. Such basins can also supply water in the summer and buffer effects of intruding salt water through seepage and the surface water system. The rearrangement of the fen meadow area seems the best adaptation strategy to even out scattered groundwater levels (13).

Relocation or mobilization of farms

Relocation or mobilization of farms and greenhouses are adaptation strategies related to problems like soil subsidence, decreased accessibility of farmland for cattle and machinery, and damage from high and saline groundwater. The relocation of farms and greenhouses involves the displacement of entire farms or enterprises to other parts of the Netherlands, where the mentioned problems do not occur. This strategy is very difficult to implement due to the large number of sectors and interests involved (23).

Floating greenhouses

Floating greenhouses are greenhouses on the water surface, which move up and down with the water level, while offering space for water storage in low-lying polders. Floating greenhouses are an integrated and flexible adaptation strategy to the increased need of space for the storage of water under climate change and to changing groundwater levels (15). In addition, the risk of damage to the greenhouse sector due to flooding is significantly reduced in low lying areas and polders.

Land use change

Land use change substitutes the productivity loss of crops with shortening growing seasons and overproduction of wheat by economic value of new urban, recreational land, forest, or land for bioenergy crops (5). Based on a study on effects of climate change on crop productivity, it is forecasted that the estimated increases in the productivity of several crops are likely to result in further abandonment of agricultural land in Europe, as observed in the past decades (5).

Adaptation strategies to salinization of agricultural land

Currently available or conceivable adaptation strategies to the salinization of agricultural land are:

  • improving the efficiency of freshwater use in areas subject to salinization, including the retention and storage of rain water, a better separation of fresh and salt water, and the increase of surface water levels to suppress salt water seepage (25);
  • the growing of halophyte cultures (15);
  • the growing of macro- and micro-algae (15);
  • the growing of bait for fish in saltwater basins on the land (15;
  • the conversion of salted arable land to grassland, nature or sea culture parks (15);
  • irrigation using brackish water: a recent study into the possibility to use brackish rainwater for irrigation in Zeeland and west Brabant showed that, in contrast to the established knowledge, irrigation using brackish water is profitable for flower bulb growing, vegetable growing and salt-sensitive arable crops like onion and carrot (17);
  • use or design of salt tolerant crops;
  • changing land use.

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 (35).

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 (35).

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 (35).


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

  1. Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (2009)
  2. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency et al. (2009)
  3. Bresser (2006)
  4. Van Ierland et al. (2001); Kok et al. (2001), both in:Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  5. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  6. Ewert et al. (2005); Kok et al. (2001); Schapendonk et al. (1998), all in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  7. Parry et al. (2000); Kok et al. (2001); IPCC (2001b), all in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  8. Van Ierland et al. (2001), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  9. Clevering (2005b), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  10. Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  11. MNP (2005), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  12. Van Duin et al. (1999), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  13. Kwakernaak and Rienks (2005), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  14. Verhagen et al. (2002), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  15. Langeveld et al. (2005), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  16. Clevering (2005b); Brouwer and Huinink (2002), both in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  17. Clevering (2005b), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  18. Veeneklaas et al. (2000), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  19. Schouwenaars (2005), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  20. Luttik and Rijk (2000), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  21. CBS Landbouwtelling (1998), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  22. RIZA et al. (2005a), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  23. Werners et al. (2004); Van Ierland et al. (2001), both in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  24. Clevering et al. (2005c), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  25. Fiselier et al. (2003), in: Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  26. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  27. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  28. EEA (2003)
  29. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  30. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  31. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  32. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  33. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  34. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  35. Fischer et al. (2005)