Introduction

Agriculture is one of Europe's largest land users and as such highly dependent on environmental conditions. Inter-annual climate variability is one of the main sources for uncertainty in crop yields. In the EU-25,162 million hectares are under agricultural use, which amounts to roughly half the Union's land. Farming plays a key role for the health of economies in rural areas, and continues to be a determinant of the quality of the countryside and the environment, although it has become less important for the national economies, tte contribution of the agricultural sector to the GDP of EU-25 was around 1.6% in 2004. Regionally and nationally, however, the contribution may be substantial, particularly in southern and central European countries where agriculture represents a more significant sector for employment and GDP.

Food production is still the major concern of agriculture and Europe is one of the world's largest and most productive suppliers of food and fibre, with 21% of global meat production and 20% of global cereal production in 2004. About 80% of this production occurred in EU25. tte productivity of agriculture is generally high, in particular in western Europe; average cereal yields in the EU are over 60% higher than the world average, tte total value of EU agricultural production is around 200 billion € and in particular the EU production of wheat is around 100 million tons, making EU the second largest producer in the world after Asia (FAO-STAT, 2005). tte area of forests in Europe is increasing and annual fellings are considerably lower. Policies today promote multiple forest services at the expense of timber production, tte role of farmers today include not only food production, but also countryside management, nature conservation, tourism and biomass production, mainly renewable energy sources, ttere are concerns that the expansion of biomass production may lead to a further intensification of European agriculture (European Commission, 2005b).

As European agriculture is highly intensive, weather remains the main source of uncertainty for crop yield assessment and crop management (Metzger et al. 2006). Since 1998, Europe has suffered more than 100 major floods, causing extensive damage. According to the estimation of IPCC (2001), it is likely that there has been up to 4% increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation in the mid and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere over the second half of the 20th century. Ironically, each year since 1990 the average land area and population affected by droughts has doubled. It can be seen that scarcely a year goes by without at least one country or some part of the Europe being affected by drought. Water scarcity is a problem that affects at least 14 Member States and around 100 million inhabitants in 26 river basin districts throughout Europe. Based on the results of trend analysis for the last 40 years, long dry periods in summer showed an increase in most stations in central Europe, the UK and southern Scandinavia, and long dry periods in winter increased in southern Europe.

ttere is an increasing demand for climate predictions at different time scales in Europe, because they carry valuable benefits for decision-making in the management of European Union agricultural production. But the key challenge for Europe today is climate change, tte yields per hectare of all cash crops have continuously increased in Europe in the past decades due to technological progress, while climate change has had a minor influence. Today climate change already has considerable impacts on agriculture which are expected to become more severe in future. tte European heat wave in 2003 had major impacts on agricultural systems and society by decreasing the quantity and quality of the harvests, particularly in Central and Southern European agricultural areas. In general it is believed that climate change and increased C02 concentration could have a beneficial impact on agriculture and livestock systems in northern Europe through longer growing seasons and increasing plant productivity. However, in the south and parts of eastern Europe the impact is likely to be negative. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU target of limiting global temperature increase to no more than 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels is likely to be exceeded before 2050 (EEA, 2004). tte assessment of climate change and its agricultural impacts in Europe is still subject to uncertainties and information gaps. Especially for the countries outside EU-25 only a small range of the potential consequences of climate change was studied. Better knowledge and understanding is still needed about the exposure and sensitivity of agriculture with respect to climate change.

ttis paper will focus on the latest developments in the field of seasonal weather forecasts for crop yield modelling in Europe and on climate change research and its connections with agrometeorological risk management.

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