Skip to content


Agriculture and Horticulture

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 (4). 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 (5).


As the result of the political and economic processes after the change of regime in 1990, between 1990 and 2000 the number of agricultural farms was reduced by more than 30%, the number of employees by more than 50%, the volume index of the gross agricultural production by more than 30% and the livestock by almost about 50% (2). In 2010 the share of the Hungarian agriculture sector was 2.8% in the GDP (14). The main agricultural crops in Hungary are wheat and maize (15).

If, beyond the agricultural raw material production, the performance of food industry, food trade and agricultural services as well as the field of sectoral management and administration and education, research and agriculture diplomacy are also taken into account, the share of the so-called agri-business was 12-13% in the GDP in Hungary in 2008, while raw material production itself covered only 4% of the GDP (1).

Hungary has agro-ecosystems on more than 80% of its territory; therefore the agricultural sector’s vulnerability to climate change is extremely high, and adaptation measures are very important. The role of the sector is much more significant in employment than it is indicated by the statistics, since the vast majority (almost 80%) of labour input used in agriculture is non-paid family workforce in Hungary (1).

Vulnerabilities Hungary

Fresh water demand

In respect of the future, water demand is anticipated to remain more or less unchanged in industry and municipalities. The bottleneck is formed by the agricultural sector. Here many uncertainties are faced due to the existing, outdated irrigation system designed for earlier large scale state owned farms, the unavoidable shift from the present small plot structure to medium sized farms and impact of the EU accession. Irrigation demand will definitely grow, particularly in the Tisza valley where availability depends a lot on foreign uses and vulnerability to climate change impacts is high. The solution should be based on a number of hard and soft tools including pricing, planning with neighbour countries and the potential joint construction of reservoirs in upstream countries to cope with extreme events (3).

Fresh water supply

The climate of Hungary will likely shift to a more Mediterranean one with more frequent extreme events. This would result in reduction in surface runoff, in soil moisture and recharge to groundwater. One of the serious consequences is less water available for increased water demand, especially for irrigation. … From a strategic viewpoint climate change’s likely impacts would be an additional, unpleasant element on already existing problems, primarily in the Tisza-valley, which has been already facing problems of water shortage (1).

In 2010, Hungary became one of the top 5 exporters of maize in the world (16). Under current conditions, crop systems are mainly rain fed, and water licences are massively underexploited. Around 98 % of the agricultural land is not irrigated, mainly due to the large number of small farms, and the lack of integrated water management system and of strong state involvement (17). It is projected (for the IPCC A1B emissions scenario) that in the second half of the century, maize production is only going to be possible with irrigation. Irrigation will also become important for other crops such as green peas and potatoes (18).


Ascending levels of temperature induce alterations in the physiological requirements of heat amount. This may result in a change of duration of crop variety, vegetation periods, and also, there is a chance for alterations in yielding ability, winter hardiness, phenological phases etc. (13).

Animal husbandry

Animal husbandry is exposed to climate change impacts regarding two aspects (13):

  • the uncertainty of and anomalies in water supply that may affect livestock, fodder, pastures;
  • the economic pressure, manifested in technology failures, husbandry methods and measures, quantity and quality of animal products.

Economic forecasts predict stability regarding dairy and beef cattle, and a further reduction in pigs, what may be recovered by strong investments only. Poultry, especially broilers may provide a new challenge. There will be no, or only minor improvement in egg production. New fields and novel methods are to be applied (turkey boom, other new poultry species, etc). Cost effective techniques are to be established (13).

Animal nutrition is influenced in various ways. Animal husbandry based on the use of grain crops is less sensitive to climate changes. Other means of nutrition, like hay, silage, fresh food, grazing based husbandries are more sensitive. Weather anomalies and uncertainties may have severe economic impacts on the fodder and feed market. Sufficient grain storage facilities, improved granary techniques, fodder quality preservation may provide prevention (13).

Veterinary aspects of climate change are manifold. Epidemics, their control and the condition of livestock are the main aspects of prevention. New parasite species and diseases as well as new or modified vectors in spreading of them represent new challenges for veterinary measures. The most important task is the preparation of veterinary services for efficient handling of climate change induced problems (13).


For vegetables, the probability of production risk in the field of frost damages and hailstorms may increase with about 50%. The production safety of fruit species is rather diverse; cherry, walnut, plum and apple will be less endangered in the future in comparison with other species (13).

The biological requirements of vegetables are extremely diverse regarding temperature and water supply. Cultivation of heat tolerant species – red pepper, tomato, cucumber, watermelon and sweet corn has been developed during the past decades. The production of cold tolerant vegetables – green peas, cabbages – has been stable in the same period. Climate change impacts may be prevented or reduced by the use of improved growing facilities, green houses, folies, irrigation techniques, plant nutrition, ridge tillage etc (13).

Medicinal and aromatic herbs are highly affected by climate change impacts. There are some 180-200 medicinal and aromatic herbs produced and/or collected in this country. Collected natural species are more vulnerable regarding unfavourable impacts. These species have rather diverse responses; there may be alterations in the quantity and quality of specific substances, and in the amount of biomass as well (13).


Initially, owing to warmer temperatures, the decrease in precipitation and the longer growing seasons, there may be an improvement in crop productivity (cereals, oilseeds and sugar beet) in countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania (12).

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 (5).

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 (6).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (7).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (6). 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% (8).

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 (6).

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 (6).

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 (6). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (9).

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 (6).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (10). In the Biofuels Progress Report (11), 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 (6).

Adaptation strategies in Hungary


For agriculture, the following strategies are recommended (13):

  • water preserving soil tillage that may contribute to storage of higher amounts of annual precipitation;
  • increment of irrigation;
  • novel crop production technologies;
  • breeding and use of drought tolerant crop varieties;
  • establishment of appropriate cropping structures and crop rotations.

An addition possibility is a new insurance system. There is no market based insurance for drought. Producers can apply for governmental support in case of severe drought in the frame of the National Agricultural Loss Mitigation System (15).

Water supply of crop production involves three major sources: (i) annual precipitation in rain fed cropping depending on the amount and distribution as well as the preservation and storage of that; (ii) irrigated cropping where rainfall is considered as additional or modifying means of water supply only; and (iii) flood irrigation systems that are mainly independent from precipitation impacts. In favour of preventing harmful climate change impacts the two latter cropping systems should be given priority in the future (13). Presently, not more than 2% of the agricultural land is irrigated (15).

Abiotic stress resistance of wheat varieties is a major issue in Hungary. The major task of plant breeding is to provide high yielding wheat varieties of marketable quality that are less susceptible to climate change impacts. Any variety has to meet a threefold demand: grain quality, quantity and yield stability (13).

Agricultural mechanization is facing six new challenges induced by climate change. They are as follows (13):

  1. technology improvements (water preserving tillage technologies);
  2. combined or reduced number of field operations (to prevent or lessen unfavourable soil conditions);
  3. more quick, flexible and efficient machinery (for less time consuming agrotechnically optimal operations);
  4. security equipments (installation of special machinery for emergency uses only);
  5. propagation of tram line production systems;
  6. low pressure wheel machinery (use of caterpillars, and reduced side wall tyres). Specific tillage technologies, mulching and appropriate stubble operations may contribute to a better soil water budget.

Plant protection is highly affected by climate change. There is an invasion of new plant diseases, insect pests and weed species. To counteract the harmful effects improved methods of prevention, defence and remediation are needed. The major fields of that are as follows: comprehensive and efficient forecasting systems, extension services, integrated pest management, application of high tech implements, site specific precision methods. Genetic resistance and/or tolerance of crop plants have to be improved by breeding. Means of biological control has to be studied and applied (13).

Water erosion may occur in increasingly extreme forms due to the changes of the climate. This means that due to increasing forces of rainfall and of runoff water endangers the soil and objective oriented water management techniques are required for counteracting erosion. Overall data indicate that the erosion damages are observable on 2.3 million hectares (that is about 25% of the country’s territory). Protection against erosion enhances the preservation of the quality and quantity of the soil. Therefore the mitigation of the harmful effects of water erosion also belongs to the means of adaptation strategies, actually of the preventive strategies. Protective soil cultivation, appropriate crop rotation and perennial sods play important role in soil conservation. Prevention involves three types of tasks (13):

  1. Soil cultivation techniques, which enhance the infiltration of precipitation water into the soil.
  2. Coverage of the soil surface (mulching) in periods out of the growing season in order to avoid erosion, maintenance of soil texture and the preservation of soil properties that enhance cultivation.
  3. Provision of obstacles to runoff water, keeping precipitation where it falls in a growing season, with various tillage techniques and soil formations (ridges and protective strips formed with stubble worked into the soil).

Animal husbandry

Trends in warming and direct and indirect effects of that may cause rise in the production costs of animal husbandry. Plants, buildings, sheds and their installation, improved insulation, ventilation, adaptation of pastures, afforestation in surroundings of animal plants are the major fields of preventing climate change effects. Special emphasis should be given to efficient and secure water supply. Temperature rise may also have an impact on handling of by-products, manure, sewage, slurry and sludge (13).


The major fields of prevention of vegetables are the production site optimalisation, the use of ecotolerant varieties, appropriate plant protection, irrigation, hail storm prevention, and improved management practices (13).

The preservation and improvement of the water holding capacity of the soils are the important factors of the adaptation to the changes of the climate, along with the use of proper soil cultivation and conservation techniques, including the use of organic manure. The value of the soil is defined more and more by the water resource it contains instead of other parameters of soil fertility. The 0–100 cm soil layer potentially may store more than half of the average annual 500–600 mm precipitation. About 50% of it is “available moisture content” (13).


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

  1. Hungarian Ministry of Environment and Water (2009)
  2. KSH (2009), in: Hungarian Ministry of Environment and Water (2009)
  3. Somlyódy and Simonffy (2004)
  4. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  5. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  7. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  8. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  9. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  10. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  11. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  12. Behrens et al. (2010)
  13. Farago et al. (2010)
  14. CIA World Fact book (2010), in: Zemankovics (2012)
  15. Zemankovics (2012)
  16. FAOSTAT (2012), in: Gaál et al. (2014)
  17. Biro et al. (2011), in: Gaál et al. (2014)
  18. Gaál et al. (2014)

Share this article: