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Agriculture and Horticulture Sweden

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 (6). 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 (7).


The total area of agricultural land in Sweden in 2007 was 3.4 million hectares, which is equivalent to around 8 per cent of the total land area of the country. Agricultural land contains both arable and grazing land. The arable land in Sweden covers approximately 2.7 million hectares, or approximately 6.5% of the total land area. The arable acreage has decreased by around 7% since 1990. The trend towards fewer and larger agricultural enterprises has been in progress for many decades, and continued in 1990-2007 (1).

The economic value of agricultural production, including direct support, amounted to approximately SEK 44 billion in 2003. Plant production represented a value of SEK 19.3 billion, while livestock production represented SEK 21.1 billion (2).

Arable land is predominantly used for the cultivation of forage crops, green fodder and cereals. The growing of forage and green fodder crops has increased at the expense of cereal cultivation since 2000. Set-aside land has increased, and total crop production has decreased by around 20 per cent since 1990 (1).

In 2007 there were just under 1.6 million cattle, 0.5 million sheep and lambs and 1.7 million pigs. The number of cattle has fallen steadily since the 1980s and declined by 9 per cent over the period 1990-1007. It is the number of dairy cows that has decreased sharply, while cows for the rearing of calves have increased in number. Sheep and lamb production has increased, particularly over the period 2003-2006. The number of pigs is continuing to decline and has fallen by 12 per cent since 2003. Thanks to increased productivity, milk production has not decreased by anything like the same extent as the number of dairy cows (1).

The proportion of people employed within agriculture is falling, with around 175,000 people now working in the sector (3). The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is extremely important for the scope, focus and profitability of agriculture. It is estimated that, in the long-term, the reform of the direct EU farming support that has been implemented will result in around 20–50% of existing agricultural companies in Sweden becoming unprofitable. This applies mainly to dairy companies (4).

Increased aggregate revenue and increased costs of damage for agriculture, forestry and reindeer herding in Sweden 2010-2100. Total increase income (mainly agriculture) = 380-740 SEK billion. Total increase costs = 135-370 SEK billion.

Benefits from climate change

Crop suitability is likely to change throughout Europe, and crop productivity (all other factors remaining unchanged) is likely to increase in northern Europe, and decrease along the Mediterranean and in southeastern Europe (5,17,19). Longer growing seasons are producing increased harvests and providing the potential for new crops. At the same time, more pests and weeds are emerging, and new requirements for watering and drainage may arise due to the altered precipitation patterns (2).

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 (21) and 23 days between 1950 and 2019 (23). 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 (23). The intensity of this season (expressed as growing degree day sum) has increased all over Europe after 2000 (22,23).

Many factors influence the future use of Swedish agricultural land. The three factors that are expected to determine the productivity trend are technical development, increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, and climate change. By 2050, it is assumed that the increase in productivity will deliver greatly increased harvests per hectare, in the region of 85–160%. In the longer term, the increase will be even greater. The need for agricultural land will therefore reduce, despite the increase in the population. Increased temperatures will lead to increased growth, particularly in the spring, when growth is currently severely restricted by temperature. In 2100 the number of days by which the start of the growing season is brought forward, for instance, may be up to 100 in the south compared with the period 1961–1990 (2).

For Sweden, 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 20.4% - 36.4% (8).

The growing zones will move northwards. One estimate is that the yield will increase by 50% in Norrland, 30% in Svealand and 20% in Götaland. If prices, land area and choice of crops remain unchanged, this would result in increased grain harvests worth SEK 1 billion annually at today’s prices. If we assume that the distribution between the crops is optimised as well, earnings will increased by approximately 60%, or SEK 2.8 billion annually (2).

Assuming that no extra investment is required, the increases in harvests would mean increased earnings of SEK 65 billion up until 2100 for increased yield, and SEK 180 billion in the event of optimised crop selection. An increased occurrence of pests and weeds is expected to increase crop losses. Calculated on the basis of a linear increase over the century in the same way as for growth, this would total approximately SEK 40 billion through until the end of the century. The cost estimates to not include change-over costs, increased costs for improved drainage or increased costs for input goods. Cloudbursts, flooding of watercourses and lakes, as well as storms, are other factors that will probably result in increased damage costs for agriculture. The future extent of cloudbursts is difficult to estimate (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 (20).

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 (15,16).

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 Sweden

Increased production requires increased use of fertilisers. Problems with pests such as insects, fungi and viruses will increase in a warmer climate. The weed flora is expected to become more species-rich. If the use of pesticides were to rise to Danish levels, this would mean almost twice present levels (2).

Despite the fact that the conditions for agriculture in Sweden will generally improve, the risk of extensive crop damage as a consequence of extreme weather events, such as drought, intensive rain and flooding, will probably increase (2).

The most serious consequence will be a threat to Saami culture if conditions for reindeer herding worsen (2).

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 (7).

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 (9).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (10).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (9). 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% (11).

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 (9).

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 (9).

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 (9). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (12).

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 (9).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (13). In the Biofuels Progress Report (14), 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 (9).

Adaptation strategies

Soil drainage is now required on a large proportion of Sweden’s agricultural land. Existing drainage systems are often not sufficient to cope with the highest flows. Crops losses occur in particular in conjunction with continuous rain and flooding. Banking up occurs primarily around Lake Vänern and Lake Hjälmaren, and as well as protecting agricultural land it also guards other land, buildings and infrastructure. The embankments are not always in the best condition, and during the floods in 2000/2001 around Lake Vänern, large areas were under water for a considerable amount of time. This resulted in crop losses, in particular those crops sown in the autumn (2).

A planned adaptation of agriculture to the new conditions may strengthen to potential for a positive development. Access to water in the future climate will differ from the current situation. More precipitation in the winter, but less in the summer, will place new demands as regards both drainage and watering (2):

  • In order to cope with the watering requirements, new reservoirs may need to be created, while ditches and pipe drains may need to be widened or redimensioned, particularly in western Götaland.
  • Embankments may also need to be reinforced.
  • In order to reduce the leaching out of nutrients in a future climate, cultivation systems and crop rotation should also be developed. For example, larger areas should be sown with crops that capture nutrients during the autumn and winter, and the tilling of soil in the autumn should be minimised.
  • When it comes to leaching, the importance of the choice of crop, soils, fertilisation and tilling measures should be studied on the basis of anticipated changes in the climate, including the climate’s variability.
  • The conditions for keeping livestock will generally improve as a result of a warmer climate.
  • New crops, changed cultivation methods and systems, sowing and harvesting times as well as adapted fertilisation and control measures will be required in order for agriculture to be able to draw full benefit from the fundamentally improved cultivation conditions that a changed climate will entail.
  • Several factors, such as wetter winters, drier summers and changes in the occurrence of pests also argue for an increase in the share of autumn crops.


The insurance cover available on the arable side is against hail damage and poor crop germination after sowing. On the other hand, it is not possible to insure for example against complete loss of a crop due to floods (2).

Since 1988 central government has had some overarching responsibility in the case of harvest damage of the natural disaster type affecting large areas. In examining different claims for compensation arising from the floods in 2000, 2001 and 2003, the Government did not, however, consider the nature of damage to be such that any special central government responsibility existed. It was also found that that there is assistance for agriculture that is paid regardless of harvest yield, which reduces the need for special protection against harvest damage (2).

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 (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 Sweden.

  1. Ministry of the Environment of Sweden (2009)
  2. Swedish Commission on Climate and Vulnerability (2007)
  3. SOU (2007), in: Swedish Commission on Climate and Vulnerability (2007)
  4. Swedish Board of Agriculture, 2006, in: Swedish Commission on Climate and Vulnerability (2007)
  5. Alcamo et al. (2007)
  6. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  7. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  8. EEA (2003)
  9. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  10. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  11. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  12. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  13. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  14. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  15. EEA (2004), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  16. IPCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  17. Iglesias et al. (2009)
  18. Fischer et al. (2005)
  19. Moriondo et al. (2010)
  20. Hoglind et al. (2013)
  21. Linderholm et al. (2008), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2016)
  22. Spinoni et al. (2015), in: Ruosteenoja et al. (2016)
  23. Aalto et al. (2022)