This year, Serbia has been experiencing severe drought with damages to the agricultural sector up to €2 billion and it is estimated that crop production will be cut by 50 percent. The Vojvodina government has requested from the central government to declare a state of natural disaster in Vojvodina. It is feared that corn production in Vojvodina could be 60% lower this year and that also other crops such as soybean, sunflower and sugar beets are under threat. It was noted however that corn yields in fields with irrigation systems will be record high this year. Water is key.
In the last two decades, Serbia has been experiencing periods of prolonged droughts alternated with periods of torrential rains and floods. Next to this, there is an increased number of storms and occurrences of hail and night frost. Overall, the conclusion is that these events are caused by climate change. For Serbia, climate change leads to increased variations in both temperature and precipitation, and in increased numbers of extreme weather events. And projections for the future are not encouraging. Climate change scenarios that were developed for Serbia show that in every scenario temperatures will go up. Regarding precipitation, until 2030 an increase in precipitation is expected with erratic variations over different areas and over the seasons. For later in this century, overall precipitation is expected to decrease.
Serbia should brace itself for more droughts, alternated with floods, and for the occurrences of weather extremes such as torrential rains, hail and night frost. These weather events can have potential catastrophic consequences for nature and agriculture. Serbia therefore should prepare itself for the consequences of climate change for agriculture, nature and society as a whole.
A study into the current effects of climate change for agriculture in Serbia, involving 200 experts, resulted to the following already noticeable consequences:
- More frequent and intensive appearance of powdery mildew on cereals, Fusarium head blight, Cercospora leaf spot, sunflower blight, and potato and tomato Alternaria spot leaf was observed in the last ten years. These are indicative of changed climatic conditions, since their development requires high night temperatures in spring and high temperatures in summer, accompanied by showers;
- Fruit production is particularly vulnerable to the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as spring frost, hail, extremely low winter temperatures, lack of precipitation (especially in July and August) and/or extremely high precipitation intensity during the growing season.
- The vegetation period for winter and summer crops is becoming shorter due to the trend towards temperatures above the biological minimum. Big variations in temperature can cause significant plant stress and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. Thermophile summer crops however could benefit (also from increased GHG) but only if there are enough water sources available;
- High solar radiation intensity and high temperatures can lead to damage spots on fruits and vegetables.
The expected effects of climate change for agriculture, based on climate change scenarios, are the following:
- Overall, agriculture in Serbia will experience decreases in main crop harvests of corn, cereals, sunflower, legumes and potato, potentially leading to losses of millions of Euro. Strong effects are expected in the form of drought, floods, extreme weather events and alterations to the water table, leading to negative effects on agriculture due to increased water stress. In addition, studies in other countries indicate that invasive species of plants, insects and animals are already occurring or are expected to arrive, moving northwards. This brings the danger of introducing pests alien to agricultural areas. To combat this would require the increased application of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides -with their detrimental effects on the environment and to human health.
- A threat to dairy farms lies in the fact that increased temperatures cause ‘heat stress’ in animals which can cause lowering of milk and meat production. Another threat to livestock and poultry is increased risk of occurrences of ‘traditional’ diseases such as E-coli, salmonella, Q-fever, BSE (mad cow disease), foot and mouth disease, blue tongue fever, etc. But there is also an increased risk due to ‘new’ diseases such as the African horse sickness virus, the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, Rift Valley fever virus, the West Nile virus and the African swine fever virus. Climate change is expected to increase the conditions in which these diseases and pathogens can survive and can spread.
In the next article the potential mitigation and adaptation measures to deal with the effects of climate change will be explored.
Initial National Communication Of The Republic Of Serbia Under The United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change. The Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, Belgrade, Serbia, 2010.
Lalić B. and Mihailović D. (2011): Impact of climate change on food production in northern Serbia 2011(Vojvodina). Faculty of Agriculture, University of Novi Sad, Serbia.