Effect of climate change on land use

Climate change has large effects on agriculture. One area is no longer suitable for cultivating crops whereas another area gets more possibilities. Scientists of Plant Research International are investigating the nature of such changes to allow farmers and authorities to take these into account in their decision making.

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The Netherlands has a good climate for potato cultivation. Oranges would not be a big success here whereas they are in Spain. This illustrates that under current conditions we know which crops can best be grown where. But all this will change with a changing climate.

Relatively speaking, North-West Europe has least to fear from climate change. A higher temperature means that crops that can until now only be grown in southern countries can be grown here. And yields of many crops will increase with an increasing CO2 concentration. On the other hand, it will be difficult to deal with extremes such as much precipitation in summer or periods of drought.

Southern Europe is suffering much more from a higher temperature because drought will then really strike there and water will become a problem. But the Mediterranean areas will still be better off than parts of Africa where drought will become extreme, rendering complete areas unsuitable for agriculture.

Adopting to changes

Our scientists are studying for all these areas how farmers can adopt to changes. As long as climate changes are only small and stepwise, farmers will have time to start doing things differently, such as sowing earlier or harvesting later. If changes are larger, other steps need to be taken such as the cultivation of other crops. In areas that are now already marginal, climate change may make agriculture impossible altogether.

The scientists are using models to link the changes in climate and land use to investigate where agriculture will remain possible in the future. This is also relevant in development cooperation. Who wishes to help to increase agricultural production must also know whether the measures are meaningful under the local conditions of climate change.

Climate, incidentally, is not the only factor that plays a role in predicting changes. The scientists are also including the effect of policy and market.

Developing climate-friendly agriculture

Agriculture is also affecting climate. Part of the CO2 emission, e.g., is to be attributed to deforestation to give agriculture more room. Agriculture is the main source of two greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide). In addition to reacting, agriculture can also provide part of the solution by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and by increasing its energy efficiency.