Denmark Denmark Denmark Denmark


Agriculture and Horticulture Denmark

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 (3). 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 (4).


More than 66% of the land is used for agriculture or horticulture. Woodlands take up 11%, while towns, roads and scattered habitation take up 10%. The rest is nature or listed areas such as lakes, watercourses, heaths, dunes and beaches. Over the last 40 years the agricultural area in Denmark has fallen from 72% of the total area in 1960 to 62% in 2003 (1).

The area with maize has increased significantly from 0.4% of the agricultural area in 1980 to 4.4% in 2003. This is due in part to a warmer climate which has made maize easier to grow. From 1980 to 2003 the number of farms fell from 119,155 to 48,613. In the same period the average size of farms increased from 24 ha to 54 ha. This development has reduced the importance of agriculture as a source of primary employment. However, in the same period agricultural production has grown, both in quantity and value (1). The agricultural cluster contributes 25% to the total Danish export of goods (Danish Agriculture & Food Council Facts and Figures, downloaded March 2019).

The cattle population fell by 39% from 1970 to 2003. Most of the cattle are dairy cows. Since milk production remained approximately unchanged throughout the period, the fall in cattle population is due to higher productivity per animal. In the same period, the pig population increased by 55%. The sheep population has doubled in relation to 1970, while the poultry population is now roughly the same as in 1970 (1).

Benefits from climate change

Global warming leads to a prolongation and intensification of the thermal growing season. Prolongation and warming of this season has already been noticed in many regions: in northern Europe thermal growing season has lengthened by about 1week between 1951 and 2000 (18) and 23 days between 1950 and 2019 (20). The increase of growing season length is largely due to the earlier beginning of the growing season, on average 15 days in the period 1950 - 2019 (20). The intensity of this season (expressed as growing degree day sum) has increased all over Europe after 2000 (19,20).

A longer growing season is expected to allow for the introduction of new crops and increased yields, meaning greater productivity in agriculture and a need for increased fertilization (1).

For Danish agriculture, the overall effects are estimated to be advantageous. Changes in cultivation practice can be implemented at short notice, and production is expected to grow with rising temperature and CO2-concentrations (2,15,16).

Despite the extreme summer heat in Germany, France and Spain in 2003, where the harvest in several places fell by up to 30%, there was no overall drop in farmers’ incomes because higher prices meant better profits in the countries which were not affected. In the longer term – in a climate under change – Denmark is favourably placed in the EU internal market (2).

For Denmark, 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% (5).

However, higher temperatures and humidity could increase the risk of pests and plant diseases, resulting in an increased demand for pesticides. At the same time, increased production would require more nutrients for plants, which, together with more precipitation and higher soil temperatures in winter, as well as irrigation in summer, would increase the risk of nutrient leaching and run-off. Implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive will help ensure both cost-effective agriculture and long-term protection of water resources in a future changed climate (2).

Climate change and increased CO2 content in the atmosphere up to 2050 are expected to increase the yield level of many agricultural crops by 10–15%. However, there will probably also be increased costs for fertiliser and pesticides. Increased yields may also be less than expected as a result of the need for increased restrictions on use of fertilizers and pesticides out of concern for nature and the aquatic environment. There may also be restrictions on cultivation of low-lying areas and on irrigation in dry summers, which will reduce the advantages in these areas (2). Increased winter precipitation and rising water levels will in some places cause flooding or such high ground water levels that agricultural exploitation may be difficult to maintain. This may be the case along a number of fjords and watercourses. Higher summer temperatures and longer periods of drought may increase the need for irrigation of sandy soils, which may affect the flow in watercourses (15).

Because of great uncertainty and lack of knowledge about the expected effects of climate change on the interplay between agriculture and the environment, it is not at present possible to make a socioeconomic calculation of these effects. Therefore there is a need for targeted research efforts into the effects of climate change on agriculture and the environment before a qualified economic calculation can be made (2).

The impact of climate change on two grass species (timothy and ryegrass) was assessed at several locations in Northern Europe (Iceland, Scandinavia, Baltic countries) in a near-future scenario (2040–2065) compared with the baseline period 1960–1990. This was done for simulations based on a large number of global climate models and the IPCC SRES A1B emission scenario. According to these results potential grass yield will increase throughout the study area, mainly as a result of increased growing temperatures: 14% for irrigated and 11% for non-irrigated conditions. Predicted yield response was largest at western locations. The growing period was predicted to start earlier in 2050 compared with the baseline period. The yield response showed a west-east geoclimatic gradient, with the largest yield responses at locations with a maritime climate in the west and the smallest at inland locations in the east. This gradient was especially evident under non-irrigated conditions due to the generally larger precipitation at the western locations (17).

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. As climate change advances, however, its negative impacts, such as more frequent winter floods, are likely to outweigh these benefits (12,13).

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 (14).

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) (14).

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 (14).

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 (14).

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 (4).

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 (2).

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 - Denmark

Short term adaptation can optimize production under given conditions. Long term adaptation is expected to involve changes in agriculture's structure, technology and land use, irrigation systems, etc, as well as development and adaptation of new species and types of crops (15).

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 (14).

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 (14).

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 (14).


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

  1. Danish Ministry of the Environment (2005)
  2. Danish Government (2008)
  3. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  4. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  5. EEA (2003)
  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. EEA (2004), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  13. IPCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  14. Fischer et al. (2005)
  15. Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy (2010)
  16. Moriondo et al. (2010)
  17. Hoglind et al. (2013)
  18. Linderholm et al. (2008), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2016)
  19. Spinoni et al. (2015), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2016)
  20. Aalto et al. (2022)