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Agriculture and Horticulture Russia

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 (8). 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 (9).


Agricultural lands occupy 13 % of the territory of Russia (25). Wheat, sugar beet, potatoes and cereals (maize, barley, oats and rye) are Russia’s most important crops (20).

Benefits in Russia from climate change

At the moment the global warming impact on Russian agriculture is currently assessed as favourable (5,25). It has already considerably reduced the number of winters with low air temperatures threatening winter crops. In many regions the vegetation period has increased by 5 – 10 days. The vegetation period for field crops has been lasting longer. For instance, in Stavropol territory due to climate change the rated grain crop capacity has increased by 30% (5).

As growing seasons become longer and precipitation patterns change, using lands for agricultural purposes that previously would have been too far north—too cold for too much of the year—will become possible (1).

An assessment has been made on the impact of climate change on Russian agriculture in 2030 (1). Regarding food supply, the longstanding popular presumption in Russia has been that a warmer global climate would translate into a significantly more hospitable Russian environment for agricultural production. Indeed, there are several respects in which climate change by 2030 will reduce longstanding challenges for Russian agriculture. First and foremost, growing seasons have already become longer and are predicted to become longer still. Accompanying this change will be a reduction in the frequency of winter temperatures that are sufficiently bitter to damage winter plantings. More sensitive varieties of winter plantings will be possible in much of Russia by 2030, and it will be possible to plant existing varieties farther north than would have been the case in the past (2).

Based on temperature ranges expected by 2030, it will also be possible to introduce entirely new crops that are not widely grown in Russia today. For example, the projected temperature of the north Caucasus and the lower Volga will be well suited to intensive agriculture for crops that are typically found in Central Asia and the south Caucasus at present crops such as cotton, grapes, tea, citrus, and other fruits and vegetables (2).

There are other factors, however, that negatively impact yields (see also below under heading 'reduced precipitation'). Limited land availability and lower soil fertility outside of Chernozem (Black Earth) belt, located in Russian steppes, make it unlikely that the shift of agriculture to the boreal forest zone will bring significant production increase. The benefits of declining frost damage are already being reduced by increasing crop damage from ice and longer wet periods in spring (28). But the principal limiting factor for crop yield in the major agricultural areas in South European Russia is summer precipitation.  For the twenty-first century, studies indicate increasing risk of severe droughts in the zone with the most fertile soil (28). Under current climate, only a relatively small area in Lower Volga River basin (presently one of the driest parts of the Russian grain belt) has a high frequency of severe droughts. In the future, the area of frequent severe droughts will likely extend to a considerable part of South European Russia (29).

An increase in area under agriculture can only partially alleviate the negative consequences of climate change (29):

  • In producing regions, there is little land suitable for agriculture which is not already converted into arable;
  • In consuming regions of the north, land reserve is also not very significant, as large areas are unsuitable for agriculture due to inferior soils, existing land use or prohibitive terrain;
  • The territories newly becoming available for grain production due to increasing temperatures are subject to rural depopulation and widespread abandonment of agricultural lands (up to 40% of agriculture lands in the 1980s are now vacant (30)).

Higher CO2 concentrations

In the short term, a rising concentration of CO2 can stimulate photosynthesis, leading to increases in biomass production in C3 crops such as wheat, barley, rye, potato and rice (15). The response is much smaller in C4 crops such as maize. These benefits will be particularly pronounced in northern Europe.

Analysis shows that with sufficient moisture and nutrition, doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations would lead to an increase in productivity of cereal crops by 34% on the average. The anticipated rise of СО2 concentrations may largely compensate for negative effects of climate change on agriculture of Russia. However, this assumption is relevant for only a portion of plants, and it does not cover such crops as corn and millet. Besides, increased concentrations of ground ozone and other contaminants may greatly reduce the efficiency of СО2 (25).

As climate change advances, however, its negative impacts, such as more frequent winter floods, are likely to outweigh these benefits (16,17).

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 (18).

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) (18).

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 (18).

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 (18).

Vulnerabilities Russia – Reduced precipitation

A key question is whether the longer growing seasons and the warmer Russian agricultural lands will result in increased yields. In fact, this does not appear to be assured—at least not based on the crops that are currently raised. Many of the current “bread basket” areas of Russia including the Black Earth or Chernozem lands, the lower Volga region, and the southern part of Siberia will experience reductions in grain yields resulting from reduced precipitation of more than 22% by 2020 (2). During the extremely hot summer of 2010 drought caused grain-harvest losses in Russia of 30%, leading the Russian government to ban wheat exports (27).

In absence of adaptation, the currently most productive part of Russia is likely to suffer from decreasing yield of cereals. Although agricultural production increases in some regions, overall the mean yield decreases considerably due to more frequent droughts in most production regions, including North Caucasus (29).

The potential increase in frequency of droughts and dryness on the territory of particular regions is the major negative factor of climate change for national agriculture. Besides, soil fertility due to humus reserves exhaustion could adversely affect agricultural crop productivity (25).

Warmer average temperatures will produce better grain yields in some parts of the country that have not traditionally served as the heartland for grain production. Regions such as the Northwest and Central federal districts and the Volga-Vyatsk region are expected to see a 10-15% increment in grain yields. Nationwide, according to Roshydromet, grain yields could shrink by more than 11% by 2020 (2).

Quantitative crop yield projections under climate change scenarios for Russia vary greatly across studies due to the application of different models, assumptions and emissions scenarios (19). Whilst a definitive conclusion on the impact of climate change on crop yields in Russia cannot be drawn, generally a decrease in the yield of wheat, Russia’s major crop, is projected as a consequence of climate change. Some areas of cultivated land are projected to become more suitable for agriculture, and other areas are projected to become less suitable (20).

Periods of drought in key agricultural regions are expected to be 50-100 percent more frequent by 2015, with the trend line continuing thereafter (2). By 2030, Russia will start to feel the impacts of climate change in relation to both water and food supply (1).

If aridity in the main grain producing regions of Russia increases and protective measures are not undertaken, the grain losses for the whole country may make approximately 11% by 2015 (6). By the middle of the century total losses may make up to 20% and more taking the present day crop capacity rate as a baseline (5).

Due to the growing concentration of СО2 the biomass will actively grow but up to the certain point. Then the fertilising effect of СО2 will get to the “plateau” while heat, droughts and other extreme weather events will negatively affect the grain and forage crop capacity (5).

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 (32). In 2006, these regions produced approximately 1.4% of the total world production that year (33). As a whole, Russia and France are currently the fourth and fifth largest wheat producing countries in the world (34). 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 (32).

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 (32). 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 (35).

Vulnerabilities Russia – Pests and diseases

Diseases and pests will become a more serious challenge in many parts of Russia (1).

Vulnerabilities Russia – Adaptation capacities

Another question that arises about future agriculture is whether human management and distribution systems, and rural society itself, will be able to adapt in a timely manner to manage new crops, new supply chains, and requirements. Indeed, rural Russia has typically been resistant to change. In addition, supply, distribution, and management issues have historically posed great hurdles for Russian agriculture. A key question will be whether a true national market for food and agricultural products develops, or whether Russian regions persist in semi-national, semi-intra-region forms of agricultural trade (3).

Unlike many developed countries, for Russia the low agricultural effectiveness is crucial. Not only can the intensified agriculture totally overcome negative impacts of climate change but also increase its productivity by more than 80% even if the increase of СО2 concentration in the atmosphere is not taken into account. Nevertheless, it may be so only if productivity is studied in isolation from the possible increase in the number of unfavourable weather events. Droughts, deserting, soil erosion and salting, frosts and thaws may totally diminish positive effect (5).

If existing agricultural technologies are not up-graded the grain and forage crop capacity of the North Caucuses, the Volga region, the Urals, Central Black-Soil region, southern regions of West Siberia and the Altai Krai may be considerably deteriorated (5).

Vulnerabilities Europe - Limitations of projections

The impacts of climate change on crop productivity are highly uncertain due to the complexity of the processes involved. Most current studies omit potentially important aspects such as extreme events and changes in pests and diseases. The dependence of some regional agriculture on remote rainfall, snowmelt and glaciers adds to the complexity - these factors are rarely taken into account, and most studies focus solely on the impacts of local climate change on rain-fed agriculture. However, irrigated agricultural land produces approximately 40-45 % of the world’s food (21), and the water for irrigation is often extracted from rivers which can depend on climatic conditions far from the point of extraction. Hence, impacts of climate change on crop productivity often need to take account of remote as well as local climate changes. Indirect impacts via sea level rise, storms and diseases have also not been quantified. Perhaps most seriously, 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. Therefore, at present, the aggregate impacts of climate change on large-scale agricultural productivity cannot be reliably quantified (22).

Important knowledge gaps and key uncertainties which are applicable to Russia as well as at the global scale, include: the quantification of yield increases due to CO2 fertilisation and yield reductions due to ozone damage (23), and the extent crop diseases could affect crop yields with climate change (24).

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 (9).

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 (10).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (11).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (10). 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% (12).

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 (10).

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 (10).

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 (10). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (13).

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 (10).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (14). In the Biofuels Progress Report (15), 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 (10).

Adaptation strategies

To maintain stable food supply, significant changes will be required in terms of varieties that are planted, the lands that are used for agriculture, and the extent and intensity of pesticide and irrigation use. All of these solutions are theoretically possible, but none will come easily or inexpensively. All will test the ability of Russian authorities and Russian agriculture to adapt quickly as climate change impacts are felt (1).

Further warming will allow considerable expansion of the overall agriculture areas in Russia. The following measures of adaptation of crop production aiming at the use of additional thermal resources are expedient to introduce in areas with sufficient moistening (4,25):

  • expansion of sowing of more late-ripening and more productive species (varieties) of cereal crops, maize, and sunflower, late-ripening sorts of potato and rape;
  • wider use of fertilizers and chemicals which are more efficient in warm and moist climate;
  • expansion of beet cultivation and more heat-loving types of green crops, e.g., soybean and alfalfa;
  • cultivation of agricultural crops with short vegetation period in the southern regions of the country to enable for growing the second harvest within one year for example, of vegetables with shortened period of vegetation;
  • development of adaptive system of agricultural management.

In addition, in the areas of insufficient moistening, adaptation measures should be aimed at the thrifty water use, which means (4,25):

  • wider application of moisture-saving technologies (snow retention, reduction of inefficient evaporation, etc.);
  • expansion of sowing of more drought resistant cultivars of maize, sunflower, millet, etc.;
  • increase in winter crop seeding, namely, wheat in the steppe regions of the Volga and Urals, and barley in the Northern Caucasus;
  • expansion of the irrigated agriculture, which is necessary for complete use of additional thermal resources in cultivation of agricultural plants;
  • earlier spring sowing of summer crops for more efficient use of soil water reserves and increase possibility of cultivation of second harvest;
  • development of field protection forest shelter belts in arid regions to increase soil moisture reserves and reduce the effects of dry winds.

In addition to general directions of national agriculture, a number of specific measures should be pointed out (25):

  • For fruit-farming and wine growing: increased thermal resources and reduced winter severities provide prerequisites for extending the areas of fruit species and grape cultivation together with considerable advance of thermophilic and productive cultivars to north and east;
  • For irrigated agriculture: the irrigation strategy should be reconsidered due to growth of productivity of irrigated lands due to increased bioclimatic potential and rise of costs of water because of increased evaporation.
  • For cattle breeding: due to reduced stabling period and subsequent decline in farm heating costs, and mainly, increase of fodder base, cattle breeding conditions will improve in forest zone. In arid steppe zone, the rise of livestock productivity is possible due to expansion of pasture areas due to a decrease in arable lands.

It has been stressed, however, that the grain belt area has low irrigation potential and water availability for irrigation is likely to decrease in the future, the complicating factor being an abundance of saline soils (29). Abstraction of the water resources of Volga and Don rivers for irrigation purposes competes against the industrial and residential water needs, and reduces the environmental services, such as rehabilitation of water ecosystem of the Don and Taganrog Gulf of the Azov Sea (31).

Another important direction is an increase in productivity and sustainability of agriculture in steppe and forest-steppe zones of the country due to implementation of measures to fight against droughts and to develop moisture saving technologies. A set of measures includes: decrease in arable land area and development of pasturing in highly arid regions, application of drought-resistant cultivars in agricultural systems; use of fallows; reduction of non-efficient evaporation; shift sowing of summer crops to earlier dates, and of winter – to later for the best use of moisture resources (25).

According to the Work Bank, the following adaptation measures hold the greatest promise for Eastern European countries, independent of climate change scenarios (26):

  • Technology and management: Conservation tillage for maintaining moisture levels; reducing fossil fuel use from field operations, and reducing CO2 emissions from the soil; use of organic matter to protect field surfaces and help preserve moisture; diversification of crops to reduce vulnerability; adoption of drought‐, flood‐, heat‐, and pest resistant cultivars; modern planting and crop‐rotation practices; use of physical barriers to protect plants and soils from erosion and storm damage; integrated pest management (IPM), in conjunction with similarly knowledge‐based weed control strategies; capacity for knowledge based farming; improved grass and legume varieties for livestock; modern fire management techniques for forests.
  • Institutional change: Support for institutions offers countries win‐win opportunities for reducing vulnerability to climate risk and promoting development. Key institutions include: hydromet centers, advisory services, irrigation directorates, agricultural research services, veterinary institutions, producer associations, water‐user associations, agro processing facilities, and financial institutions.
  • Policy: Non‐distorting pricing for water and commodities; financial incentives to adopt technological innovations; access to modern inputs; reformed farm subsidies; risk insurance; tax incentives for private investments; modern land markets; and social safety nets.

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 (18).

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 (18).

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 (18).


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

  1. US National Intelligence Council (2009)
  2. Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) (2005), in:US National Intelligence Council (2009)
  3. Nikolai Dronin and Andrei Kirilenko (2008), in:US National Intelligence Council (2009)
  4. Roshydromet (2008)
  5. WWF Russia and OXFAM (2008)
  6. Roshydromet (2005).
  7. Russian Federation,Interagency Commission of the Russian Federation on Climate Change Problems (1995)
  8. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  9. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  10. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  11. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  12. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  13. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  14. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  15. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  16. EEA (2004), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  17. IPCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  18. Fischer et al. (2005)
  19. Tatsumi et al. (2011); Fischer (2009); Dronin and Kirilenko (2008), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  20. Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  21. Doll and Siebert (2002), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  22. Gornall et al. (2010), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  23. Ainsworth and McGrath (2010); Iglesias et al. (2009), both in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  24. Luck et al. (2011), in: Met Office Hadley Centre (2011)
  25. Russian Federation, Interagency Commission of the Russian Federation on Climate Change (2002)
  26. World Bank Group (2009)
  27. Barriopedro et al. (2011), in: Coumou and Rahmstorf (2012)
  28. Interagency Commission of the Russian Federation on Climate Change Problems (2006), in: Dronin and Kirilenko (2011)
  29. Dronin and Kirilenko (2011)
  30. Loffe and Nefedova (2004), in: Dronin and Kirilenko (2011)
  31. Gaponenko (2005), in: Dronin and Kirilenko (2011)
  32. Licker et al. (2013)
  33. FAO (2009, 2012); Agreste Picardie (2008), all in: Licker et al. (2013)
  34. FAO (2011), in: Licker et al. (2013)
  35. Brisson et al. (2010), in: Licker et al. (2013)