Climate Change Transforming Europe's Agriculture, Report Finds

Crops like apricots and nectarines typical in the south are beginning to appear in northern regions, while in Mediterranean regions, tropical weather is hitting vineyards and olive groves.
Sep. 21, 2020
Costas Vasilopoulos

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Climate change is shift­ing the estab­lished pat­tern of cul­ti­va­tions in Europe, favor­ing the north­ern coun­tries over the south­ern, the German broad­caster Deutsche Welle (DW) said in a report.

Climate change is pos­ing a risk for the sus­tain­abil­ity of vine­yard man­age­ment at a global scale and, par­tic­u­larly, in Europe.- Josep Maria Sole, VISCA

Warmer weather is mak­ing its way to the north decreas­ing the frost peri­ods and increas­ing grow­ing sea­sons, while weather con­di­tions resem­bling trop­i­cal cli­mates are shap­ing in the south bring­ing more prob­lems to the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

Northern have started to cap­i­tal­ize on the trend by grow­ing typ­i­cal crops of the south. Orchards of apri­cots and nec­tarines have already appeared in the state of Lower Saxony in north­ern Germany, and vine­yards con­tin­u­ously expand in size in coun­tries like Denmark and Sweden.

In the U.K., the coun­try’s wine indus­try has quadru­pled its pro­duc­tion dur­ing the last 20 years cash­ing in on a milder cli­mate, although with the price of fac­ing extreme weather phe­nom­ena more often.

Unpredictable weather events, droughts and intense sum­mer storms are a real prob­lem and seem to have increased in fre­quency,” said Jon Fletcher, a wine pro­ducer based in the U.K. This year we have already had the sun­ni­est May on record and no rain­fall for two months, so the unpre­dictable weather con­tin­ues.”


Traditional crops of the south, on the other hand, have begun to suf­fer sig­nif­i­cant losses under the increas­ingly trop­i­cal-like cli­mate of the Southern European coun­tries.

Climate change is pos­ing a risk for the sus­tain­abil­ity of vine­yard man­age­ment at a global scale and, par­tic­u­larly, in Europe,” said Josep Maria Sole of VISCA, an EU-funded project for help­ing wine pro­duc­ers in Europe adapt to new chal­lenges. He added that intense heat and droughts will pose a seri­ous threat to Europe’s wine indus­try in the com­ing years.

Αdverse weather is a men­ace for the olive oil sec­tor as well. Italy lost more than half of its 2018 har­vest due to colder than usual weather, with an accu­mu­lated finan­cial loss of approx­i­mately €1 bil­lion ($1.19 bil­lion), DW said in its report.

This fall, rough weather of heavy rains and hail­storms around the coun­try has already taken a toll on olive trees among other crops.

In advance, pathogens like the fruit fly take advan­tage of the warmer win­ters to invade new ter­ri­to­ries, threat­en­ing the olive oil indus­try of Europe, explained Blaz Kurnik, an expert on cli­mate change at the European Environment Agency (EEA).

In the worst-case sce­nario, up to 80 per­cent of [Italy’s] olive trees will be affected by this every year,” Kurnik noted.

Some farm­ers around the Mediterranean have opted for trop­i­cal species instead of indige­nous crops, espe­cially in Italy where orchards of avo­ca­dos and papaya spring up in tra­di­tional olive oil mak­ing ter­ri­to­ries like Sicily, Puglia and Calabria.

The favor­able cli­mate of many areas in the Mediterranean basin is pro­mot­ing trop­i­cal fruit cul­ti­va­tions,” Vittorio Farina, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­ture at the University of Palermo, said. In fact, the pre­dom­i­nant mango and avo­cado pro­duc­tion is con­cen­trated in trop­i­cal coun­tries, but recently its cul­ti­va­tion has spread out­side the tra­di­tional geo­graph­i­cal regions to the Mediterranean basin and in par­tic­u­lar in Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Europe, mainly Spain and Italy.”

In Spain, how­ever, sci­en­tists focus more on adapt­ing the exist­ing vari­eties to the alter­ing weather than intro­duc­ing new kinds of crops.

There already is the pos­si­bil­ity to adapt the vari­ety with­out chang­ing the [main] crop in the short to medium term,” Margarita Ruiz-Ramos, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, said. It’s a com­pro­mise between dif­fer­ent needs. And that’s why it’s not so obvi­ous as to just bring in some African crops.”

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