Climate adaptation in agriculture

Climate change also affects agriculture. Crops can be damaged by droughts or extreme weather. The Action Programme for Climate Adaptation in Agriculture describes how the agricultural sector can prepare for extreme weather and other risks associated with climate change. To do this, the sector needs help from other parties, like water authorities.

The 5 pillars of the Action Programme for Climate Adaptation in Agriculture are as follows:

  • Water system

A good water system helps farmers cope with drought or flooding. Together, water authorities, nature site managers and farmers need to work on improving water retention in nature reserves and on farmland, to minimise the damage to plants during a prolonged drought.

  • Soil system

Healthy soils can take up, store and deliver water and nutrients to plants. This is essential for good crop yields. And it is even more important in a changing climate. It also helps if farmers plough less often, use lighter machinery and grow crops with more extensive root systems.

  • Crops and cultivation systems

Extreme weather, like heatwaves, heavy rainfall, hailstorms or frost, can damage plants and crops. A changing climate can also create favourable conditions for new pests and diseases. Farmers and growers can take measures to protect their crops. For instance, they can choose varieties that are more resilient against extreme weather, or grow fruit under cover.

  • Livestock farming

Heat and drought are very stressful for livestock animals like cows, pigs and poultry. Climate change may result in new pests or animal diseases. Good ventilation and cooling systems in livestock sheds help keep animals comfortable. Animals outdoors benefit from access to shade. There are rules about transporting animals during a heat wave to safeguard animal welfare.

  • Support

The Netherlands has many different types of landscape, such as sandy soils, coastal dunes, riverscapes, and peatland pastures. Climate change poses different problems for each type of landscape. These problems are tackled at local level in close collaboration between water authorities, municipal and provincial authorities and farmers. At international level policy programmes and knowledge is exchanged to learn from good examples of climate adaptation abroad.    

A lot of research has been done into ways the agricultural sector can adapt to the changing climate.


The adaptation action programme was drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Input was provided by the Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Association (LTO), the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Dutch Water Authorities, the Association of Provincial Authorities (IPO), the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG), and the Dutch Association of Insurers.

Farmers adapting to climate change

Nathan van Beek is an arable farmer in Gilze. His farm is increasingly confronted with extreme weather. In the video, Mr Van Beek explains how, in recent years, he’s been having to adapt the way he manages his farm to respond to the effects of climate change.

In 2018, the lion's share of potatoes was too small.
This year went fairly well.
We have had more rain.
So, who knows what will happen in 2020.
This is where all nutrients are stored or administered, it is where the plant grows.
If you handle the soil badly, you will have a poor yield.
When it is very dry, due to the extreme climate we have had in recent years, we want to maximize the soils’ moisture retention capacity, by for example adding compost.
When it's very wet, what you want is to buffer the rain water as much as possible.
The rainwater sinks into the ground and we want to keep it there as long as possible so plants can make use of it in drier periods.
We cannot stop climate change.
We can however anticipate climate change.
Being prepared for extreme weather within the existing frameworks.
Here we are on a watercourse where a weir has been installed to retain the water in the area for a longer period.
These were placed about five or six years ago.
And these help to anticipate climate change.
In 2016 a lot of rain fell in the summer.
2017 was a relatively normal year. 2018 was extremely dry, truly extremely dry.
I've never experienced that. In 2019, the Netherlands’ hottest spot was located here.
If you have crop failures two years in a row similar to 2018, you might as well sell your business.
A few years ago, I would have said that it will become a challenge, and now it is a challenge.