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German farmers hit by climate change impacts, new data shows

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Farmers and campaigners are warning of the impacts climate change has on agricultural production in Germany amid mixed results for this year’s harvest due to adverse weather events.

A sequence of different weather extremes over the past months has left its mark on Germany’s agricultural production and led to significant variations between regions and production sectors, according to harvest data.

“Extreme weather as a consequence of the climate crisis is increasingly turning our harvests into a lottery game,” Agriculture Minister Cem ?zdemir said during the presentation of the official government harvest report on Monday (28 August).

The report points to several seasons of unpredictable weather, including an unusually mild winter in 2022, a spring in 2023 that started rainy and ended dry, and an arid summer that turned unusually rainy just in time to hamper the harvest of key crops.

Harvest hampered by rain.

While the report speaks of a “satisfactory” rapeseed harvest, it finds that the overall grain harvest remains around 4% below the multi-year average, with particularly low values seen in central and northeastern regions. For winter wheat, the most important grain crop, yields remained around 3% below the multi-year average.

“Where there was heavy rainfall at harvest time, quality suffered, especially for wheat,” the report explained.

?zdemir called to draw lessons from this year’s mixed harvest data. “Anyone who believes that we can delay working on climate protection and climate adaptation does not represent the interests of German agriculture,” the Green minister stressed.

“We must work together to make agriculture climate-proof so that we can continue to harvest crops safely in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time,” he added.

The argument that this year’s harvest offers a first glimpse into German farmers’ future in the face of climate change was shared by farmers and green campaigners alike.

German farmers’ association President Joachim Rukwied spoke of the “clearly noticeable effects of climate change” during the association’s harvest projection presentation last week.

Likewise, the President of environmental NGO NABU, J?rg-Andreas Kr?ger, said this year shows “how the climate and nature crisis pose challenges to food production already today.”

What lessons to draw?

However, conclusions on what this should mean for future policy measures diverged.

For Rukwied, “We need to do everything we can to ensure yields and food security in the future.” This includes “breeding more resilient plant varieties, a wide range of active ingredients for crop protection, water-saving and conservation tillage, and targeted promotion of irrigation infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the German section of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) pointed to a diverse agricultural landscape as a way to make agriculture more climate resilient, as it “prevents erosion, provides habitat for natural counterparts to pathogens and pests, and keeps water where it is needed to produce valuable food for as long as possible.”

The German harvest data also comes amid ongoing impacts of extreme weather on agriculture across Europe, notably the continued effects of this spring’s severe drought on the Iberian Peninsula and in other parts of Southern Europe.

EU-wide weather caprioles

Most recently, the crop monitoring report for August from the EU’s Joint Research Centre found that “abundant” and “frequent” rain caused delays in the harvesting and adverse effects on the quality of winter crops in Germany and the Benelux countries and north-western France.

Meanwhile, “heatwaves and drier-than-usual conditions particularly impacted summer crops in Bulgaria, southern and eastern Romania, Czechia and central Poland,” according to the report.

Non-EU states are suffering as well with the Minister of Agriculture of Albania, Frida Krifca, recently telling EURACTIV in an interview that climate change is the biggest issue facing Albanian farmers.

She pointed to sporadic and heavy rains, prolonged winters and springs. and higher temperatures as critical challenges for present and future policies to help farmers.

On Wednesday (30 August), the European Commission is set to present the results of the EU-wide harvest to the European Parliament’s agriculture committee.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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