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Extreme weather events and farmer adaptation in Zeeland, the Netherlands: A European climate change case study from the Rhine delta

Global climate change is manifest by local-scale changes in precipitation and temperature patterns, including the frequency of extreme weather events (EWEs). EWEs are associated with a myriad range of adverse environmental and societal consequences, including negative impacts to agriculture and food production. This study focuses on EWEs and their effect on adaptation strategies by potato and onion farmers in Zeeland, a Dutch coastal province in the Rhine delta that can serve as a model for other intensive agricultural landscapes in industrialized nations impacted by extreme weather events. The research approach combines quantitative trend analysis of long-term climatic data (temperature, precipitation) with a formal survey of Zeelandic farmers to statistically test four specific hypotheses regarding the frequency of EWEs in the Netherlands and farmer awareness and adaptation.

Anoek J. van Tilburg, Paul F. Hudson
20 October 2022
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Trend analyses reveal a strong (statistically significant) increase in extreme heat, a small increase in extreme rainfall and drought, and a strong decrease in frost occurrence. Survey results indicate Zeelandic farmers perceive high risk and awareness of changes to the frequency of EWEs. Many farmers have experienced financial losses from EWEs, particularly between 2017 and 2020. For extreme heat, droughts, and frost, the proportion of farmers that incurred financial damages annually is statistically correlated to the actual occurrence of EWEs. Farmers who incurred more financial losses between 2000 and 2020 due to heat and lack of frost had a higher risk perception of these extremes. Further, almost all farmers have already implemented one or more adaptation strategies. A third of surveyed farmers reduced or stopped with potato and onion cultivation in response to climate change and EWEs. Awareness, exposure to, and risk perception of EWEs contribute to adaptation support by farmers. The high perceived risk of climate change and EWEs among respondents and the high incidence of financial losses from extremes in the past two decades highlights the importance of adaptation in the agricultural sector, including in temperate regions where growing seasons are expanding. Study results support the current ‘Rural Development Program’ and future ‘National Strategic Plan’ policies in the Netherlands, both part of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), that provides accessibility to adaptation measures for farmers to avoid financial loss.

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