Greece Greece Greece Greece

Agriculture and Horticulture Greece

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 (9). 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 (10).


The percentage of irrigated agricultural land in Greece has remained constant since 2000 (38%), while total irrigated land in 2003 increased by 22% compared to 1990. Arable cultivations account for 64% of the total agricultural land (excluding fallow land), while tree crops, vineyards and garden area represent the 29%, 4% and 3% respectively of the total agricultural land (1). Over 90% of overall water consumption in Greece, Portugal and Spain is due to agriculture (11).

Cereals for grain represent the most important cultivation in Greece (37% of total agricultural land in 2003 excluding fallows). The total cultivated area with cereals for grain was reduced since 1990 by 13%, while the production increased by 1.6%. In 2003 the production of corn, rice and oat increased by 15%, 60% and 31% respectively compared to 1990 levels, while the production of wheat, barley and rye decreased by 11%, 28% and 21% respectively (1).

Vulnerabilities Greece

Agriculture accounts for only a small part of gross domestic production (GDP) in Europe. Therefore, the overall vulnerability of the European economy to changes that affect agriculture is low (2). Regionally and nationally, however, effects may be substantial, particularly in southern and central European countries where agriculture represents a more significant sector for employment. The agriculture sector in southern European countries may be among the most vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of projected climate change (3,23).


Over the period 1978–2005, climate change has affected cereal production in a few, but for these crops important, regions in Greece. Yield reductions were observed for wheat and barley, and to a lesser degree for maize, especially due to higher maximum and minimum temperatures, and decreases in total precipitation. Widely used irrigation probably weakened the influence of climate trends on maize yield (27).

Future projections

Depending on the part of Greece under consideration, and according to a mid-line scenario for carbon dioxide emissions and economic growth (SRES A1B) for 2021–2050 compared with1961–1990 (26),

  • maximum length of dry spell (i.e. spell where precipitation is less than 1 mm per day) may increase by 10 – 20 days. These values are highly uncertain, however, because of the episodic nature of precipitation affecting dry spell length;
  • the number of days where maximum temperatures exceed 35°C, when the productive stage of crops may be unfavourably affected, tends to increase by 10–20 additional days;
  • the number of frost nights, which is a very important factor especially for sensitive crops such as orange and lemon groves, probably reduce by 10-15 days;
  • the length of the growing season, defined as the changes in the number of days between the last day of spring frost and the first day of autumn frost, increases by 10-20 days.

The production yield of maize in Greece may significantly decrease due to climate change (under the A2 scenario of IPCC). At the end of this century this reduction is at the order of 42%-60% in northern Greece, 35-47% in western and central Greece and 40-52% in southern Greece. It should be noted that the assessment of fertilization impacts from the increased concentrations of CO2 is in progress and this potentially positive impact is not included in these results.

The southern Mediterranean is likely to experience an overall reduction of crop yields (legumes, cereals, tuber crops) due to the change in climate (4,5). In some locations in the northern Mediterranean, the effects of climate change and its associated increase in carbon dioxide may have little or small positive impacts on yields, provided that additional water demands can be met. The adoption of specific crop management options (e.g. changes in sowing dates or cultivars) may help in reducing the negative responses of agricultural crops to climate change. However, such options could require up to 40% more water for irrigation, which may or may not be available in the future (5).

In the warmer southern Mediterranean increases in CO2 help to reduce the loss in yield arising from a warmer and drier climate, but is not able to completely offset the losses. In the cooler northeastern Mediterranean, CO2 increase and the associated climate change result in little net effect on most crops, provided that the increase in water demands, especially for irrigated crops, can be satisfied. Similarly in the northwestern Mediterranean, yields of irrigated crop may increase if water demands can be met. However, rainfed summer crops are likely to experience a net reduction in yield, even when the fertilizing effect of CO2 is considered (5).

A study for Greece, for example, found that the total cost of climate change could be an estimated US$2.6 to US$5.9 billion per year (6). This includes estimated annual losses equivalent to US$2.3 to US$3.9 billion due to lost agricultural production.

For Greece, the change of crop yield in 2080 referred to 1990 has been estimated based on several combinations of models and scenarios; the outcomes range from a 27.4% decrease to a 1.0% increase (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 (10).

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 (13).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (14).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (13). 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% (15).

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 (13).

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 (13).

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 (13). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (16).

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 (13).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (17). In the Biofuels Progress Report (18), 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 (13).

Benefits and opportunities

As conditions deteriorate for cereals, opportunities for other crops may open up. Warmer climates and a longer growing season would extend the scope for olive and citrus throughout much of the northern Mediterranean region. … In the southern Mediterranean, the scope for olive production may also increase in some areas. Moreover, increases in temperature may, however, open the way for the more tropical species such as avocado, mango, banana, paw paw and sugar cane (8) - assuming there is an adequate supply of water.

Adaptation strategies

Options to address increases in water scarcity in agriculture include (11):

  • Within the agriculture sector efficiency gains, in terms of water use per unit area, of up to 50% are thought to possible through switching irrigations technologies from gravity to drip or sprinkler feed systems;
  • Conservation tillage, the practice of leaving some of the previous season’s crop residues on the soil surface;
  • establish native varieties of forests or grassland, or to allow natural regeneration;
  • Small scale water conservation measures;
  • Other options include changing crop types and management practices to one which are less water demanding and better adapted to climate conditions under water scarcity. In the south of Europe, short season cultivars that are planted earlier are more likely to reach maturity in advance of the arrival of extreme high summer temperatures, thus avoiding injury from heat and water stress (20). The rice sector in Spain, Portugal and Greece is particularly vulnerable (21). Water availability is likely to become the major driver of future land use, precipitating land use changes;
  • Biotechnology.

Model calculations (24) show that over the Mediterranean basin:

  • an advanced sowing time may result in a successful strategy especially for summer crops. The advancement of anthesis and grain filling stages allowed the summer crops to partially escape the heat waves and drought;
  • irrigation highly increase the yield of the selected crops. In general, requirements for summer crops were larger than for winter crops. Accordingly, the beneficial effects of this strategy were more evident for summer crops.


The use of irrigation to tackle summer water stress in southern Europe include a number of structural adaptations for enhancing water storage via increasing storage capacity for surface water (construction of  retention reservoirs and dams), and groundwater (aquifer recharge); rainwater harvesting and storage; conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater; water transfer; desalination of sea water; removing of invasive non-native vegetation; and deep well pumping (25).

Across Europe as a whole, agriculture accounts for about 24% of total water use. In parts of the Mediterranean, however, this share can reach up to 80% due to widespread irrigation of crops. Excessive abstraction for irrigation has been driven, at least in part, by the fact that farmers have seldom had to pay the full resource and environmental cost for water (7).

Various practices can be implemented to ensure that agriculture uses water more efficiently. These include the timing of irrigation so that it closely follows - on a daily basis – crop water requirements; adopting more efficient techniques such as sprinkler and drip irrigation systems; and using pressurized pipe networks rather than gravity-fed open channels. Also consumer awareness and measures such as rainwater harvesting and the use of ‘grey’ water (7). It is also important to maintain sufficciently high levels of soil organic matter (19).

The introduction of adaptation strategies showed the possibility to reduce the negative effects determined by the changes in climate conditions. Anticipation of the sowing data may allow the crops to escape the water stress during the late period of the growing cycle. Cultivars with longer growing period may increase the length of the filling of reproductive organs that under future climate is expected to be shorter for the increasing temperature. Both options, however, would require additional water for irrigation. In particular, the effective use of long cycle cultivars can demand 25 – 40% more water (5).

Policy adaptation - mitigation

Policy will have to support the adaptation of European agriculture to climate change by encouraging the flexibility of land use, crop production, farming systems etc. In doing so, it is necessary to consider the multifunctional role of agriculture, and to strike a variable balance between economic, environmental and social functions in different European regions. Policy will also need to be concerned with agricultural strategies to mitigate climate change through a reduction in emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, an increase in carbon sequestration in agricultural soils and the growing of energy crops to substitute fossil energy use. The policies to support adaptation and mitigation to climate change will need to be linked closely to the development of agri-environmental schemes in the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (22).


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

  1. Hellenic Republic, Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works of Greece (2006)
  2. Reilly (1996), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  3. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  4. Bindi and Moriondo (2005), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  5. Giannakopoulos et al. (2005)
  6. Dalianis and Petassis (1993), in: Karas (2000)
  7. Collins (2009)
  8. Le Houérou (1992), in: Karas (2000)
  9. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  10. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  11. Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  12. EEA (2003)
  13. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  14. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  15. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  16. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  17. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  18. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  19. Ciscar et al. (2009), in: Behrens et al. (2010)
  20. Maracchi et al. (2005), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  21. Agra Europe (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  22. Olesen and Bindi (2002)
  23. Iglesias et al. (2009)
  24. Moriondo et al. (2010)
  25. Kundzewicz et al. (2007), in: Moriondo et al. (2010)
  26. Giannakopoulos et al. (2011)
  27. Mavromatis (2015)