Indicator Assessment

Growing season for agricultural crops

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-188-en
  Also known as: CLIM 030
Published 20 Dec 2016 Last modified 18 Nov 2021
10 min read
This page was archived on 18 Nov 2021 with reason: No more updates will be done
  • The thermal growing season for agricultural crops in Europe has lengthened by more than 10 days since 1992. The delay in the end of the growing season has been more pronounced than the advance of the start of the season. The length of the growing season has increased more in northern and eastern Europe than in western and southern Europe.
  • The growing season is projected to increase further throughout most of Europe owing to the earlier onset of growth in spring and later senescence in autumn.
  • The projected lengthening of the thermal growing season would allow a northwards expansion of warm-season crops to areas that were not previously suitable. In parts of southern Europe (e.g. Spain), warmer conditions will allow crop cultivation to be shifted to the winter.

This indicator has been archived. For relevant information, please see the index "Growing degree days" here:

Trend in the number of frost-free days

Note: The annual rate of change of frost-free days represents the trend coefficient for long-term changes in the annual number of days with a minimum daily temperature above 0 °C. For example, a value of 1 indicates that the number of frost-free days has increased on average by 1 day per year in last 30 years (period 1985-2014). The analysis is based on the JRC-MARS gridded meteorological data at 25 km resolution.

Data source:

Past trends

Increasing air temperatures are significantly affecting the duration of the growing season over large areas of Europe. Many studies report a lengthening of the period between the occurrence of the last spring frost and the first autumn frost. This has occurred in recent decades in several areas in Europe and more generally in the Northern Hemisphere [i]. Studies of changes in the growing season based on remote sensing show a diverse spatial pattern in Europe [ii]. Across all of Europe, the delay in the end of the season of 8.2 days in the period 1992–2008 was more significant than the advanced start of the season by 3.2 days [iii].

An analysis of the frost-free period in Europe between 1985 and 2014 shows a general and clear increasing trend (Figure 1). The trend is not uniformly spread over Europe. The highest rates of change (an extension of the frost-free period by more than 0.8 days per year) were recorded in eastern and northern Europe; little or no change was observed along the Mediterranean coast, where frost is a rare phenomenon.


A warming of the climate is expected to result in an earlier start of the growing season in spring and a longer duration in autumn. The date of the last frost in spring is projected to advance by about 5–10 days by 2030 and by 10–15 days by 2050 throughout most of Europe [iv]. A longer growing season will, in many cases, allow for the introduction of new crop species that were previously unfavourable owing to low temperatures or short growing seasons, but it may also increase the spread of weeds, insect pests and diseases [v]. The suitability for growing certain crops will also depend on the total amount of heat received during the growing season, expressed as a temperature sum. Projections show that the greatest absolute increases in temperature sum will be in southern Europe, whereas relative changes are much larger in northern than in southern Europe [vi].

The extension of the growing season is expected to be particularly beneficial in northern Europe, where new crops could be cultivated and where water availability generally does not restrict growth [vii]. In parts of the Mediterranean area, the cultivation of some crops may shift from the summer season to the winter season, which could offset some of the negative impacts of heat waves and droughts during summer. Other areas of Europe, such as western France and parts of south-eastern Europe, will experience yield reductions from hot, dry summers without the possibility of shifting the crop production into the winter seasons [viii].

[i] M. Trnka et al., ‘A 200-Year Climate Record in Central Europe: Implications for Agriculture’,Agronomy for Sustainable Development 31 (7 June 2011): 631–41, doi:10.1007/s13593-011-0038-9.

[ii] Mark D Schwartz, Rein Ahas, and Anto Aasa, ‘Onset of Spring Starting Earlier across the Northern Hemisphere’,Global Change Biology 12, no. 2 (1 February 2006): 343–51, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2005.01097.x.

[iii] Su‐jong Jeong et al., ‘Phenology Shifts at Start vs. End of Growing Season in Temperate Vegetation over the Northern Hemisphere for the Period 1982–2008’,Global Change Biology 17, no. 7 (1 July 2011): 2385–99, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02397.x.

[iv] M. Trnka et al., ‘Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe under Climate Change’,Global Change Biology 17, no. 7 (1 July 2011): 2298–2318, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02396.x.

[v] Jonas Roos et al., ‘The Impact of Global Warming on Plant Diseases and Insect Vectors in Sweden’,European Journal of Plant Pathology 129 (2 October 2010): 9–19, doi:10.1007/s10658-010-9692-z.

[vi] Trnka et al., ‘Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe under Climate Change’.

[vii] L. Elsgaard et al., ‘Shifts in Comparative Advantages for Maize, Oat and Wheat Cropping under Climate Change in Europe’,Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A 29, no. 10 (October 2012): 1514–26, doi:10.1080/19440049.2012.700953.

[viii] M. I. Minguez et al., ‘First-Order Impacts on Winter and Summer Crops Assessed with Various High-Resolution Climate Models in the Iberian Peninsula’,Climatic Change 81, no. Suppl. 1 (2007): 343–55, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9223-2; J.E. Olesen et al., ‘Impacts and Adaptation of European Crop Production Systems to Climate Change’,European Journal of Agronomy 34, no. 2 (February 2011): 96–112, doi:10.1016/j.eja.2010.11.003.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

  • Rate of change in the number of frost-free days per year


  • days/year


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission (EC) presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package. This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU Adaptation Strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe.

One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which will be achieved by bridging the knowledge gap and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the EC and the EEA to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies.

Further objectives include Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies and Promoting action by Member States. Most EU Member States have already adopted national adaptation strategies and many have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation. The EC also supports adaptation in cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.

In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Climate-ADAPT: Adaptation in EU policy sectors
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: Country profiles
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives in the future. This web portal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
  • EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform - basic regulations
    References to climate change particularly in Regulation 1307/2013 (direct payments for farmers), Regulation 1306/2013 (so-called horizontal issues such as funding and controls: Articles 12 and 93, Annex I) and Regulation 1305/2013 (rural development: Articles 5, 7, 15, 28, 34, 35, 53 and 55).


Methodology for indicator calculation

The map has been produced based on the Agri4Cast database developed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The database contains meteorological data at 25 kilometres grid level, interpolated from meteorological station data. The interpolation is performed taking into account only arable land that is potentially suitable for crop growth.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

The effects of climate change on the growing season and crop phenology can be monitored directly, partly through remote sensing of the growing season and partly through monitoring of specific phenological events such as flowering.

The projections of climate change impacts and adaptation in agriculture rely heavily on modelling, and it needs to be recognised that there is often a chain of uncertainty involved in the projections, which range from emissions scenarios, through climate modelling and downscaling, to assessments of impacts using an impact model. The relevant modelling approaches in Europe have been discussed in a recent report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The extent of all these uncertainties is rarely quantified, even though some studies have assessed uncertainties related to individual components.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 030
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 4 years
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



Filed under: climate, agriculture, atmosphere
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