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Indicator Assessment

Water intensity of crop production in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-362-en
  Also known as: WAT 006
Created 14 Nov 2019 Published 20 Dec 2019 Last modified 06 Jan 2020
17 min read

Crop production in Europe became 12% less water intensive between 2005 and 2016. The total water input to crops under rainfed and irrigated conditions for each unit of gross value added generated from crop production, excluding subsidies, decreased from 5 m3 to 4.4 m3 over the period.

Western Europe demonstrated the lowest water intensity of crop production over the period, with 3.5 m3 of total water input for each unit of gross value added generated. However, there was no significant change in the trend between 2005 and 2016.

In eastern Europe, crop production became 31 % less water intensive between 2005 and 2016. The total water input to crops fell from 7.3 m3 to 5.0 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated over the period.

Crop production also became 13 % and 11% less water intensive in northern Europe and southern Europe, respectively between 2005 and 2016. In northern Europe, total water input to crops fell from 11.2 m3 to 9.7 m3 over the period, while in southern Europe it fell from 4.2 m3 to 3.8 m3.

Development of water intensity of crop production in Europe (2007-2016)

Note: Total water input is expressed in m3/ha and gross value added is expressed in PPS/ha, where the area in ha represents the sum of arable land and land with permanent crops. The monetary unit being used (purchasing power standard — PPS) accounts for purchasing power differences among countries. Theoretically, one PPS can buy the same amount of goods and services in each country. Water use intensity of crop production is classified at the regional level according to the quartile distribution of all time series (2005-2016); Below Q1=Low intensity; Above Q3=High intensity; Between Q1 and Q3=Moderate intensity; Regional grouping (UN Geoscheme — Standard M49). Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia Northern Europe: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, United Kingdom Southern Europe: Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain Western Europe: Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands Gap filling: The following data have been used in mapping the countries: 2010 data used for Greece in 2011; 2006 data used for Hungary and 2005 data for Luxembourg in 2007; 2009 data for Portugal in 2010 and 2015 data for Sweden in 2016. Because of large differences in climatic conditions, the structure and properties of agricultural production systems, cross-country comparisons may not be particularly instructive between countries from different geographic regions.

Data source:

Development of total water input against gross value added from crop production (2010=100 index)

Chart
Data sources:
Table
Data sources:

Between 2005 and 2016, crop production in Europe became 12 % less water intensive. The total water input to crops (i.e. soil moisture and irrigation) decreased from 5 m3 to 4.4 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated, excluding subsidies).

Because of large differences in climatic conditions, and the structure and properties of agricultural production systems across Europe, comparisons between different countries may not be particularly instructive, especially between countries from different geographic regions. Thus, the regional analysis of this indicator provides a more accurate overview of its trends across Europe.

Overall, the regional trends in water intensity of crop production are as follows:

In southern Europe, the water intensity of crop production decreased by 10.5 % from 2005 to 2016. The total water input to crops fell from 4.2 m3 to 3.8 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated, excluding subsidies. The lowest water intensity of crop production in this region is found in Malta (2016: 1.8 m3 per purchasing power standard-PPS), despite a recent increasing trend.

Between 2005 and 2016, crop production became less water intensive in Portugal and Spain, because there was a decrease in total water input and an increase in generated gross value added, excluding subsidies, per hectare of land. Spain in particular shows a clear trend for absolute decoupling between total water input and gross value added generated in crop production.

On the contrary, crop production became more water intensive in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta. The irrigated area decreased in these countries, despite an increase in irrigation abstraction and total water input per hectare of land. However, there was a decline in the gross value added generated per hectare, excluding subsidies, over the same time. This is assumed to be related to the decrease of crop yields in the Mediterranean, especially grain, as a result of climate change.

Southern Europe contains nearly 60 % of all irrigated areas and 85 % of water abstraction for irrigation in Europe. Water abstraction for agriculture may exceed 80 % of total water abstraction in certain southern European river basins. Irrigation abstraction in southern Europe is significantly higher, compared with other parts of the continent, for a number of reasons; for instance, due to warmer and drier climatic conditions, which extend the growing season of crop production overall, increase the transpiration needs of individual crops and cause higher evaporation losses from open water and soil surfaces. Water scarcity is also more severe in southern Europe, resulting in limited natural water availability during the growing season, which is insufficient to cover crop water needs under rainfed conditions. Rainfed production is mainly locally applied, in cases of specific crop types, such as wheat, olives, vines and autumn vegetables. Cultivated crop types in southern Europe are largely different compared with other regions. Temperature and soil conditions are favourable for the cultivation of crops, such as cotton, alfalfa, maize, sugar beets, fruit trees (including citrus), nuts, berries and vegetables. Although these crops are rather water-demanding, they are also fairly commercial/tradeable and profitable, compared with other crop types, such as cereals. The influence of crop patterns is reflected in the gross value added generated per hectare, excluding subsidies, which is above the European average in all southern countries, except for Greece.

Climate change aggravates water deficits and crop failures due to droughts in southern Europe overall, despite local differences. Driven by water security concerns, southern countries have made large investments in the construction of reservoirs, irrigation and drainage infrastructure. However, these measures have also caused significant pressures on natural water balance and altered inland and coastal hydromorphology. Applying irrigation ensures timely water inputs to crops during their growth cycle, especially at critical phases, such as flowering and ripening. Hence, crop production under irrigated conditions usually achieves higher yields than rainfed conditions. Higher crop yields can also be attained because irrigation is usually combined with fertilisation and chemicals (e.g. pesticides), but their application can cause environmental pollution of surface and ground waters, if they are not sustainably managed. Crop yields may also increase proportionately more for similar water inputs, when deficit irrigation is applied to crops that are resistant to water deficits. Deficit irrigation is a widely applied technique in southern Europe, which contributes to lower water intensity in the region. Furthermore, many southern countries have promoted water saving and reuse technologies in fields. Cyprus, Malta and Spain perform irrigation with reclaimed water; even indirectly through recharge-pumping schemes. In addition, the share of more efficient irrigation technologies, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation, is high in Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia (80-85 %). However, less efficient irrigation technologies, such as surface irrigation, have significant shares in Croatia, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (>30%). For southern Europe, a significant efficiency issue is the large number of leaks or evaporation losses from conveyance networks of irrigation water (e.g. earthen and open trenches, aging pipes).

In eastern Europe, the water intensity of crop production decreased by 31.3 % between 2005 and 2016. The total water input to crops fell from 7.3 m3 to 5.0 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated, excluding subsidies. The lowest water intensity of crop production in this region is found in Romania (2016: 3.7 m3 per PPS).

Crop production became less water intensive particularly in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia 2005 and 2016, mainly because of remarkable increases in gross value added generated per hectare, excluding subsidies, and to a lower degree due to decreases in total water input. Irrigation abstraction per hectare reduced significantly (>20 %) in Bulgaria and Romania over the same period; however, it remains high in absolute terms. Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia in particular show a clear trend for absolute decoupling of total water input and gross value added generated in crop production. This is a positive sign, given efforts in restructuring and modernising their agricultural sectors, especially after their accession to the EU. The case of Hungary is interesting because the gross value added per hectare generated increased by 62 % between 2005 and 2016, mainly because of high increases in yields, production and export of cereals and industrial crops. However, the total water input decreased by 11 % over the same time, despite a 60 % increase in irrigated areas.

On the contrary, crop production became more water intensive in Poland. Although irrigation abstraction per hectare was halved, the total irrigated area doubled; thus, offsetting any water gains. In addition, there was a decline in the gross value added per hectare generated, excluding subsidies.

In Eastern Europe, the climate is more temperate and humid than southern Europe. The crops cover their water needs mainly through rainfall retained in the root zone. Irrigation is applied to a lesser extent as a way of regulating seasonal water deficits, combating droughts and reducing the risk of crop failure during critical stages of crop growth. The share of irrigated land in eastern countries is below 3 % of total agricultural area and the share of irrigation volume is low compared with total water abstraction, despite recent increases.

The level of crop production in eastern Europe fell significantly in the 1990s and the irrigation infrastructure was poorly maintained, resulting in significant deterioration of conveyance efficiency. Since the 2000s, large investments have been made in restructuring the agricultural sector and improving the water infrastructure, including irrigation networks. All these investments have improved conveyance efficiency and lowered water losses. Nevertheless, many eastern countries apply still less efficient irrigation technologies on fields, such as surface/furrow irrigation (>20 % in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). The crop yields in eastern countries are generally lower than in western Europe, partly because of differences in farming equipment and farmers’ training. The renewal of ageing equipment is still lagging behind. As the eastern countries were preparing to join the EU, they received special pre-accession support regarding rural development (SAPARD programme). Furthermore, after joining the EU in 2004, the access to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Funds related to agriculture and rural development, and enhanced trade opportunities for agricultural commodities in the EU single market, provided significant motivations for increasing crop production. In addition, agricultural infrastructure and equipment, including irrigation, were upgraded. These changes are also reflected in the significant increases in gross value added generated per hectare, excluding subsidies, in almost all eastern European countries after 2004. However, over the same period, irrigated areas expanded rapidly, except in Slovakia. In recent years, the expansion of irrigated areas and volumes has also been driven by reductions in soil moisture, due to frequent drought events.

Western Europe shows the lowest water intensity of crop production compared with other regions. However, it has shown no further declining trend over the period 2005-2016. Total water input to crops remained around 3.5 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated, excluding subsidies over this period. The lowest water intensity of crop production in this region is found in the Netherlands (2016: 0.5 m3 per PPS).

Between 2005 and 2016, crop production became marginally less water intensive in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The cases of Germany and Luxembourg are interesting, because the total water input per hectare and the gross value added per hectare both declined. Such cases show the importance of reducing water inputs, without compromising crop yields and economic gains. In the Netherlands, both total water input and gross value added per hectare showed a small increase. In this case, lower water intensity is not achieved with further water saving.

On the contrary, crop production became slightly more water intensive in France. Although there was a reduction in irrigated areas and irrigation abstraction per hectare, the country also saw some losses in gross value added generated per hectare, excluding subsidies.

In western Europe, different climate conditions occur. For example, in southern France the climate is Mediterranean with warmer and drier conditions; in parts of Austria and Switzerland the climate is Alpine with cooler and wetter mountainous conditions; and in the rest of western Europe, the climate is generally temperate and humid. In this region of Europe, irrigation is widely applied to cover the seasonal water deficits, stabilise crop production and improve yield quality. The share of the irrigated area in the total agricultural area is negligible, particularly in Belgium and Luxembourg, and relatively higher in France (>7 %) and the Netherlands (>9 %). In France, this is due to the variance of climatic conditions across the country, which causes crops in southern France to have higher irrigation needs. In the Netherlands, this is due to local soil conditions (e.g. drought-sensitive sandy soils in northern Brabant and Limburg) and the cultivation of more water-demanding crops (e.g. maize, potatoes, sugar beets, fruit/vegetables, flowers). Irrigation abstraction per hectare of cultivated land is generally low, except in France, which has the highest abstraction rate (>1900 m3/ha). Soil moisture shows mixed patterns, with increases in some areas and decreases in others. Climate change is projected to affect natural water availability and crop yields in southern France to a larger extent.

More efficient irrigation technologies, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation, generally dominate in western Europe, with Germany and the Netherlands showing the highest shares. The Netherlands also applies dual irrigation and drainage systems, performing land drainage during the wet season, raising groundwater tables through recharge, and using stored water through discharges in the dry season. With this practice, excess runoff is collected and recycled on the farm. The maintenance of the water infrastructure, the sophistication of the equipment and farmers’ training is generally higher than in other regions. Especially in the Netherlands, agro-business is very advanced, closely following market developments, as well as research and technology innovations. In addition, large shares of harvested crops are produced in greenhouses, where growing conditions and inputs are closely controlled. The Netherlands has achieved remarkably high crop yields compared with the European average. This is also reflected in the gross value added per hectare, which is considerably higher compared with the European average (around seven times higher in 2016). However, other environmental impacts of greenhouses should also be considered, such as their high energy intensity (e.g. heating and cooling needs). By definition, the calculation of the indicator takes into account related energy costs, such as intermediate consumption, but it does not capture non-monetary externalities associated with this energy production.

In northern Europe, water intensity of crop production also decreased by 13.3 % between 2005 and 2016. As a result, total water input to crops fell from 11.2 m3 to 9.7 m3 for each unit of gross value added generated, excluding subsidies. The lowest water intensity of crop production in this region is found in Denmark (2016: 5.8 m3 per PPS).

Crop production in Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and the United Kingdom became less water intensive between 2005 and 2016. Those countries generally increased their total water input per hectare; notably, irrigation abstraction per hectare almost doubled in Denmark over the period. However, this development was overwhelmed by significant increases in the gross value added per hectare generated, excluding subsidies. On the contrary, crop production became more water intensive in Estonia, because there was an increase in the total water input per hectare, without a similar increase in the gross value added per hectare.

In northern Europe, because of more humid climate conditions, there is high long-term availability of surface and groundwater. Issues with water scarcity and droughts are local and rare; mostly occurring over heavily urbanised areas and tourist hotspots (e.g. Copenhagen, London and Stockholm), rather than over rural areas. Rainfed agriculture prevails in this region and irrigation abstractions represent only a small part of the total water input to crops. The share of irrigated land in the total agricultural area is negligible in many countries (e.g. Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania). Irrigated areas are proportionately larger in Denmark (>6 %), which cultivates industrial crops and plants harvested green. In addition, irrigation abstraction per hectare is proportionately larger in Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Northern Europe is dominated by sprinklers, which is an irrigation technology with moderate to high efficiency. The levels of maintenance of water infrastructure, and farmers’ equipment and training are generally high. Since production is largely rainfed, crop yields are affected significantly by the amount and distribution of rainfall water during the growing season. Notably, in northern countries, both irrigation and yields show significant volatility over the years, as a result of water deficits, droughts and frosts. The gross value added per hectare in northern European countries is generally lower than the European average, with the exception of Ireland. Climate change is projected to cause an increase in the average precipitation and temperature in the region, making climate conditions more favourable for the expansion of agriculture. However, climate change is also projected to increase the magnitude and frequency of drought events, making rainfed production more vulnerable to failures, unless irrigation is applied.

  

 

 

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The water intensity of crop production is defined as the total volume of water input (irrigation and soil moisture; measured in cubic meters (m3)) for one unit of gross value added generated from the production of all crop types, excluding relevant subsidies on crops (GVA adjusted for subsidies; measured in Purchasing Power Standard (PPS)).

The lower the indicator value, the less water intensive the crop production.

Units

The units used in this indicator are cubic metres (m3) per Purchasing Power Standard (PPS)


 

Policy context and targets

Context description

Since 2007, the European Commission has highlighted the challenges arising from water scarcity and droughts, adopting a relevant policy document (EC, 2007), followed by a series of policy reviews in subsequent years. In addition, water has become part of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, which was adopted by the Commission in 2011 (EC, 2011). This includes a clear target of keeping water abstraction below 20 % of available renewable freshwater resources. Where crop production is a significant driver of water abstraction, this would require substantial improvements in decreasing water demand and increasing efficiency of irrigation water use. This strategic approach also constitutes one of the key targets of the Seventh Environment Action Programme, which aims to turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy.

According to the 'Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources' (EC, 2012) water efficiency targets should be developed by the river basin authorities in each river basin, which suffers or is projected to suffer from water stress. These targets should be substantiated at sector level (e.g. agriculture, households, industry, energy) and should contribute to the WFD objectives for good status of water bodies. The WFD also promotes efficiency and reuse measures, including water-saving irrigation techniques. Furthermore, the Commission has developed guidelines that support the integration of water reuse in water resources planning and management in the context of WFD implementation (EC, 2016). In May 2018, new rules were proposed to stimulate and facilitate water reuse in the EU for agricultural irrigation, which are currently negotiated by the co-legislators.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports investments on water conservation and the upgrade of irrigation infrastructures and training of farmers to improve irrigation techniques. The cross-compliance provisions of the CAP also include obligations for farmers to maintain 'good agricultural and environmental conditions'.

The EU is committed to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 6.4 requires that 'By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity'.

Targets

No specific target or threshold has been set for this indicator.

Related policy documents

  • A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources . Brussels, 14.11.2012, COM(2012)673 final.
  • Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union
    EC (2007). Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union. Brussels, 18.07.07, COM(2007)414 final.
  • Cross-compliance regulation
    EC (2009). Commission Regulation (EC) No 1122/2009 of 30 November 2009.
  • Guidelines on Integrating Water Reuse into Water Planning and Management in the context of the WFD
    Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive.
  • Resource efficiency in Europe — Policies and approaches in 31 EEA member and cooperating countries
    This report provides an overview of resource efficiency policies and instruments in 31 member and cooperating countries of the European Environment Agency network (Eionet). A detailed survey was conducted during the first half of 2011 to collect, analyse and disseminate information about national experiences in developing and implementing resource efficiency policies, and to facilitate sharing of experiences and good practice. The report reviews national approaches to resource efficiency and explores similarities and differences in policies, strategies, indicators and targets, policy drivers and institutional setup and information gaps. It concludes with some EEA considerations for future policies on resource efficiency which could be considered in developing future resource efficiency policies at the EU and country levels. The analysis is illustrated with short examples of policy initiatives in the countries, described in more detail in the country profile documents available below.
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goal - 6.4
    UN SDG 6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity UN SDG 6.4.1 Change in water-use efficiency over time
 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Water intensity of crop production is expressed as the ratio of the volume of water input to crops (irrigation plus soil moisture in cubic meters; m3) and GVA generated from the production of all crop types, adjusted for subsidies (in PPS).

Water input to crops (in m3) consists of:

  • irrigation abstraction - surface water (FSW), which is the water abstraction for irrigation purposes from fresh surface water sources;
  • irrigation abstraction - groundwater (FGW), which is the water abstraction for irrigation purposes from fresh groundwater sources;
  • irrigation abstraction - non-freshwater (NFW), which is the water abstraction for irrigation purposes from non-freshwater sources, including treated saline, brackish or reclaimed water;
  • soil moisture in growing season, which is the total available soil water (TAW) that is retained in the soil profile of arable land and land with permanent crops (or utilised agricultural area, excluding permanent grassland and kitchen gardens) during the growing season (assumed to be April-September). TAW is a fraction of the total amount of rainwater, excluding runoff, evaporation and deep percolation (FAO, 1998).

Irrigation abstraction - surface water (FSW) and irrigation abstraction - groundwater (FGW) can be calculated using the Eurostat data set 'water abstraction for agriculture-irrigation (source: fresh surface and groundwater)';
Irrigation abstraction - non-freshwater (NFW) can be calculated using the Eurostat data sets 'water abstraction for agriculture-irrigation (source: desalinated water)' 'water abstraction for agriculture-irrigation (source: reused water)' and 'water abstraction for agriculture-irrigation (source: non-fresh water sources, not reported elsewhere)';
Water abstraction is expressed in terms of annual volume per country (million m³ per year). Gap-filling is performed using similar data sets from SoE WISE 3 -Water Quantity, OECD and AQUASTAT.

Soil moisture in the growing season can be calculated using the soil water content (in l/m3) that is simulated by the soil water balance model for European Water Accounting (swbEWA). The model has been validated using in situ soil moisture measurements at different locations across Europe (Kurnik et al., 2014). The model outputs have also been used for the calculation of the EEA indicator 'Soil moisture' (LSI 007). The model uses as inputs E-OBS data sets for climatic parameters (e.g. temperature, precipitation). The model outputs have been aggregated over the utilised agricultural areas, which are categorised either as 'arable land' or 'permanent crops'. Aggregation is carried out per country and for the growing season (indicatively: April-September), assuming an indicative soil depth of 2m. 

The utilised agricultural area categorised as 'arable land' or 'permanent crops' can be calculated using the available data set from Eurostat ('Crop statistics'). It is expressed in terms of annual area (ha per year).

Gross value added (GVA) of crop production (in PPS; values at constant prices with 2010 as reference year) is presented at basic prices, adjusted for crop subsidies, and expressed in terms of annual value per country (million PPS per year). This is an approximate measure of the net economic value generated by the producer exclusively from the production of all crop types, which best captures the revenues and the costs accrued by the producer. It can be calculated as follows:

  • crop GVA at basic prices = crop output – crop intermediate consumption – taxes (deductible, e.g. VAT, and non-deductible) + crop subsidies
  • crop GVA at basic prices, adjusted for crop subsidies = crop GVA at basic prices – crop subsidies

Where:

  • Crop output is the value of crop production at basic prices (in PPS; values at constant prices with 2010 as reference year) per country per year. Crop production refers to NACE activities A1.1 ('Growing of non-perennial crops') and A1.2 ('Growing of perennial crops') and the value of crop production is an aggregate for all crop types. It can be calculated using the data set 'production value at basic price', which is available from Eurostat ('Economic Accounts for Agriculture'), which includes: cereals; industrial crops, including root crops and pulses; forage plants; vegetables and horticultural products; potatoes; fruits , including olives and grapes; wine, olive oil and other crop products.
  • Crop intermediate consumption is the value of intermediate costs at basic prices relevant for crop production (in PPS; values at constant prices with 2010 as reference year) per country and year. It can be calculated using a proxy of available data sets from Eurostat (under 'Economic Accounts for Agriculture'). Specifically, Eurostat provides the 'intermediate costs for agricultural output at basic prices' as an aggregate, without further separating into sub-categories (e.g. for crop output, animal output, animal product processing, etc). However, a detailed list of intermediate cost types is also provided ('seeds and planting stock,' 'energy; lubricants,' 'veterinary expenses', etc.), which allows those cost types to be fully or partly associated with crop output. For example, 'seeds and planting stock' and 'plant protection products, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides' can be exclusively associated with crop production. 'Fertilisers and soil improvers' can be relevant both for crop and animal production; but not for other components of agricultural production. Therefore, the relative proportion of crop output to the sum of crop and animal output was used to apportion a share of these figures to crop output. 'Energy; lubricants' can be relevant for all types of agricultural production. Therefore, the relative proportion of crop output to total agricultural output was used to apportion a share of the figures to crop output. None of the remaining intermediate cost types was considered to be associated with crop production, because they are rather related to animal breeding or animal product processing or services, etc.
  • Crop subsidies include EU or national payments to crop farms per country per year. They can be calculated using a proxy of available data sets from FADN. 'Total Subsidies - excluding on investments (SE605)' accounts for subsidies on current operations linked to production, not including payments for investments or payments for cessation of farming activities. 'Gross Farm Income (SE410)' is the rough equivalent of crop GVA at micro-economic level, accounting for output minus intermediate consumption plus the balance of taxes and subsidies. In micro-economic terms, the share (%) of 'Total Subsidies - excluding on investments' out of gross farm income constitutes a rough equivalent of the share of crop subsidies out of crop GVA at macro-economic level. Therefore, once this share is calculated, the crop GVA may be discounted in order to derive the crop GVA, adjusted for crop subsidies. The crop farms considered to calculate both variables are those classified under the TF8 (Type of Farm) classification system as: TF=1. Field crops; 2. Horticulture; 3. Wine; and 4. Other permanent crops.

The economic values of the indicator are expressed at constant prices because they make indicator interpretation more straightforward. Any increase in the national GVA at constant prices can be associated with an increase in the amount of the produced output. If the national GVA was expressed at current prices, then a change in the GVA could be also a result of changing prices.

The economic values are expressed in PPS, which is an artificial currency unit accounting for price differences across borders. One PPS can buy the same amount of goods and services in different Member States of the Eurozone using the EUR or in other European countries using other currencies, based on exchange rates between the PPS and those currencies. The exchange rates are called Purchasing Power Parities (PPPs). The calculation of the indicator is suspended if one of the following datasets is not available for the same country and for the same year: water abstraction; soil moisture; gross value added; subsidies on crops.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap-filling is conducted for indicator values. Gap-filling is conducted for underlying data in the following cases:

  • Water abstraction for irrigation purposes from non-freshwater sources or reused water or desalinated water are assumed equal to 0, if not reported. The only exception is reused water for irrigation purposes in Cyprus (2015), where the available value for the previous year has been used (i.e. 2014).
  • Water abstraction for irrigation purposes from fresh surface water and groundwater sources: France (2014, 2015, 2016) estimated using total agricultural abstraction and historic ratio between irrigation abstraction and agricultural abstraction; Italy (2010) estimated using irrigation water use from Farm Structure Survey (FSS) 2010 increased by 30 % to account for average transport losses before use; Luxembourg (2016) assumed to be 0 because no irrigated areas were reported.
  • Soil moisture content for Malta was assumed to be the same as Italy for all years. 

Methodology references

 

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

  • In areas with significant shares of mixed farming, where crop and animal production are combined, the water intensity can be overestimated, as the indicator focuses on GVA generated from crop production only. In those cases where rainwater and irrigation are used for growing livestock feedstuff on arable land and land with permanent crops, the GVA generated from animal production (e.g. dairy, meat and other animal products) is not included in the calculation of the indicator.
  • The methodology that was used to estimate the soil moisture per country is based on EEA modelling work and further aggregations to capture the suitable temporal and spatial scales. Modelling is a simplistic representation of reality, which introduces a number of systematic or random errors. The aggregation techniques are built on assumptions that may insert distortions of the national values of soil moisture. For example, the growing season is considered unique for all countries and crops, using a generic period between April and September. In addition, the depth of the root zone has been taken as equal to 2 m, which is a reasonable average for crops with shallow roots and crops with deeper roots.
  • Separating crop GVA into two portions, one for 'irrigated growth' and one for 'rain-fed growth' could not be performed, because of conceptual issues and lack of readily available datasets.
  • The calculation of the crop GVA required the attribution of a proportion of the agricultural intermediate costs (i.e. the total sector costs) to the crop output level. The method that was developed (i.e. by attributing a proportion of the costs based on the relative size of the crop output to either the agricultural industry or the crop plus animal output, as appropriate) is a fair simplification, but it is expected to increase the uncertainty of the indicator results.
  • The PPS does not specifically capture the purchasing power of farmers, but customers in general. Comprehensive datasets on the purchasing power of farmers are not readily available.

Data sets uncertainty

  • Reported values under 'water abstraction for agriculture - irrigation' are identical to reported values under 'water abstraction for agriculture' (Eurostat dataset: env_wat_abs) for all years in Croatia, France, Malta, Slovenia and Turkey. This would imply that the agricultural sector in those countries extracts no water for animals or other uses, which seems inaccurate. For Finland (2005), the reported volume of irrigation abstraction and irrigated area lead to an extreme application rate of 88 889 m3/ha, so the indicator calculation has been suspended. For Sweden (2005, 2010, 2015), values from Eurostat have been substituted by reported values from the national statistical office (Swedish Statistical Office - SCB), due to high discrepancies.
  • Reported values of irrigation abstraction do not account for unauthorised or unregistered self-abstraction, which is a common issue in many agricultural areas, especially in southern Europe.
  • Several countries, such as Poland and the Netherlands, use dual irrigation/drainage systems (i.e. drainage during wet seasons and submerged irrigation in dry seasons by raising water tables in rivers or groundwater). It is not clear, if reported volumes for irrigation abstraction account for these practices.
  • No data are available on desalinated water for irrigation purposes, whereas this practice seems to exist in some southern countries, e.g. in Spain, based on international literature (FAO, 2006).
  • The soil water balance model (swbEWA) has been found to overestimate soil water storage, especially for low soil depths near the surface.

Rationale uncertainty

Caution is needed when comparing water intensities among different countries, with significant differences in the structure and characteristics of their agricultural production systems. Such comparisons may not be particularly instructive, whereas comparisons within the same geographic and climatic region may be more informative. Low water intensity of crop production values does not necessarily imply that the country is operating efficiently on all levels, but instead may be an indication that the baseline crop mix/production system is inherently of lower intensity.

Furthermore, annual changes in indicator values can be affected by changes in various agents, such as crop patterns, seed quality, soil fertility, cultivation methods and irrigation infrastructure, weather conditions, water limitations, crop failures (e.g. because of frost, heat or insect attacks), etc. Therefore, interpreting the annual changes in indicator values can be very complex. However, the long-term trends can be more informative on whether water intensity is effectively decreasing.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • WAT 006
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 3 years
EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

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