2007-12-07 Hardy Graupner
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German farmers are facing the impacts of climate change

Field of cabbage next to farm in GermanyField of cabbage next to farm in Germany
German farmers and scientists met in Berlin on the 26th of November for a sobering discussion on the long-term impact of climate change on agricultural production. Hardy Graupner reports that global warming is expected to cause even more frequent droughts in the eastern parts of Germany, while farmers in other areas may profit from warmer harvesting periods. Scientific institutes warn that farmers should start adapting their fields to the climate changes that are on the way, but farmers are generally hesitant to heed this advice:

Hans Joachim Rossbach has been a farmer in the eastern German state of Brandenburg for many decades now. He has seen many harvests ruined by bad weather, but believes the climate has become more arid in recent years:

embers of the environmental group Greenpeace illuminate a rock on the German island of Helgoland Wednesday Dec. 5 2007 to protest global warming. Sign reads: "Climate Victim?"embers of the environmental group Greenpeace illuminate a rock on the German island of Helgoland Wednesday Dec. 5 2007 to protest global warming. Sign reads: "Climate Victim?"
”We’ve seen quite some changes in the past 10 to 15 years, says Rossbach. Spring is getting hotter, and summer is becoming much shorter, and that’s really something to worry about.”

This April -- the warmest and driest in his lifetime -- Rossbach has lost a third of his crops. Many other eastern German farmers are facing similar hardships, and they all dread the lengthy periods of drought.

Addressing farmers and scientists at a meeting in Berlin, Hermann Lotze-Campen from the Potsdam-based Institute for Climate Impact Research, warned that drought was likely to become a normal seasonal occurrence, as global warming proceeded. He said that farmers there would be advised to modify their farming practices accordingly.

“Well there are several issues. You can widen your crop rotation. You can diversify into a greater variety of crops and not specialize too much. But then there’s also this issue of income insurance which is well known to people in the U.S. for example, or Australia, I think. Don’t look only at production effects but income effects and there might be insurance schemes or other financial market instruments to have risk aversion with respect to your income but not necessarily only with respect to pure production technology.”

Field of wheat in GermanyField of wheat in Germany
Extreme weather conditions in Germany destroyed harvests worth about 8 billion euros between 1990 and 2006. And the damage forecast for the next decade will most likely be even bigger. Such extreme conditions can easily ruin a farmer’s business altogether, says Rainer Langner from the United Hail Insurance group. He believes that specialist insurance policies against drought, hailstorms or flooding could ease the plight of farmers across Germany. Langner agrees that generally milder climate conditions could even lead to better harvests in some areas in Germany, but the whole of the country would increasingly suffer from extreme weather conditions:

While better insurance against extreme weather has started to attract farmers’ attention across the country, many are still reluctant to think about investing more money in alternative more robust crops which are heat-resistant and can cope with the stormy weather. And many aren’t completely convinced that the unstable and unpredictable weather conditions of the past few years are a result of man-made climate change and are here to stay. Holger Brandt is with the German Farmers’ Association:

”Scientific institutes more often than not have their own axe to grind, he says. For me, many of the warnings they’ve been issuing are highly populist.”

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