Farmer engagement as key to successful climate adaptation



Understanding farmers’ perception of the associated risks and opportunities related to climate change and how this may influence their decisions or response strategy is instrumental in defining supporting policies and research. In EJP Soil CLIMASOMA, we look specifically at adaptation measures via soil management and types of cropping systems. This study explores and aims to understand the complexities of farmers’ decision making via a systematic literature review.

The willingness to act and adapt to climate change is strongly related to a farmers’ awareness and how concerned they are about the impacts and risks of climate change. The key focus of many farmers are their crops and associated yields. Specific soil-related adaptation strategies are often not the most prevalent measures being mentioned by farmers in the context of climate change adaptation. However, in recent years, scientific literature shows that the trend towards including soil health has increased.

Barriers and drivers (e.g., policies, biophysical conditions), as well as farmer’s perception of barriers and drivers (e.g., peer pressure, farm risk) determine the willingness of farmers to adapt to climate change. The general barriers and drivers for adoption of climate change adaptation strategies were: awareness of climate change and perception of risks, access to information on climate change & adaptation, social capital, financing, policy/regulations, use and access to technologies. However, whether these factors were a driver or barrier depended on the context of the farmer and their farm. This shows the importance of understanding the context of the farmer, the local and regional specificities, including the social and cultural context. Therefore, understanding the more intricate decision-making related to farmer’s barriers and drivers, at farm level, for specific soil climate adaptation measures is an area that needs further research.

Acknowledging the large diversity of farmers, their perceptions and ambitions, across Europe should be the starting point. Grouping farmers based on farm characteristics (e.g., socio economic, farm type) and their personal characteristics (e.g., profit seeking, pro-environment) may help to identify potential underlying factors driving farmers. A typology that reflects the diversity of farmers can contribute to a better understanding of the perceptions, aspirations and motivations of different farmers. And so, guide policy, extension services and research to provide targeted support to the different types of farmers.


The impacts of climate change vary across regions and farming systems in Europe. Changes in growing season and crop phenology result in a northwards expansion of areas suitable for several crops and a decline in areas in the south. Extreme weather events such as heavy showers, droughts and heat waves will impact all parts of Europe AgriAdapt, 2017Jacobs , 2019Ciscar , 2011. Recent extreme weather events such as the intense rainfall and related flooding during the summer of 2021 were experienced across the Atlantic and Continental parts of Europe. “Climate change impacts on agriculture is projected to produce up to 1 % average gross domestic product loss by 2050 but with large regional differencesJacobs , 2019. Therefore, more support is needed to help farmers adapt to the changing production conditions they are facing.

So far most of the attention in relation to climate change and adaptation of the agricultural sector has focused on soil management and cropping systems Ewert, 2015Smith, 2012Olesen , 2011. The farming system approach which links the decision-making process to farm management strategies was highlighted by Meuwissen (2019) and Reidsma (2015). However, farmer’s decision making and the role a farmer plays in implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies are often not considered. The importance of taking a broad behavioural perspectives to help improve the legitimacy of soil governance and facilitate better targeted actions to stimulate the adoption of adaptation measures implemented by farmers is gaining increasing recognition Bartkowski & Bartke, 2018Bijttebier , 2018.

Clearly there is a greater need to start understanding farmers’ perception of climate change, its associated risks and opportunities and how this may influence their decisions regarding their adaptation measures in relation to soil management and cropping systems. This study will explore this topic via a systematic review of the literature and combine this with information from relevant EU projects. In this way aiming to gain a better insight into our current understanding of farmers’ and the diverse spectrum of:

  1. how farmers are influenced by the perceived risks/opportunities of climate change (CC) and how this affects their management decisions or CC adaptation strategies- including soil management?
  2. what are the drivers/barriers for CC adaptation measures?
  3. what are the needs of the farmers for successful adaptation strategies and
  4. how to engage better with farmers to ensure their resilience against CC through appropriate soil management measures?

Methodology and data source

Behavioural paradigms and models

Understanding farmers’ motivations and barriers for soil related climate adaptation is complex and there are many behavioural paradigms and models used to understand the decision making process of farmers Bartkowski & Bartke, 2018Mills , 2017Mitter , 2019. For this study, the behavioural model of Mills (2017) was used, to frame our review of the literature on farmers’ drivers and barriers for implementing soil related climate change adaptation. It was developed to better understand farmer’s decision making in relation to agri-environmental schemes, a context which is potentially like that of climate change adaptation. According to Mills (2017) “there is a consensus that farming systems are heterogeneous and therefore that the context and outcome for decision-making in relation to the environment will vary greatly spatially. This heterogeneity and context relate to an “intricate interaction of agronomic, cultural, social and psychological factors; and each of these factors plays interwoven roles in each national, regional and specific farm context. These affect the individual farmer’s response..”.

According to the IPCC climate change adaptation is defined as making “adjustments. in response to actual or expected climatic.. effects or impacts.. (to reduce vulnerabilities)... and to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change” Smit & Pilifosova, 2003Cardona , 2021. The risk of impacts from climate change events are “ determined not only by the climate and weather events (the hazards) but also by the exposure and vulnerability to these hazards” Cardona , 2012. However, effective CC adaptation strategies to manage these climate risks not only depend on the actual potential exposure and vulnerability, but also on how farmers perceive their level of exposure and vulnerability to the effects of climatic events. This is important, as this relates to farmers’ behaviour and how concerned a farmer is about CC or how they experience it, as this in turn may determine how they may manage associated risks (risk preference) to their farm and their livelihood.

We used the Mills (2017) behavioural model to help structure the findings of the literature review. It was adapted to the decision-making context of climate change (CC) and the associated decision making of the farmer in relation to CC adaptation (Figure 1). The Mills model is at the center and consists of three major components:

  1. Ability- a farmer’s ability to adopt a measure, which relates to the biophysical limitations of the farmers location and their socio-economic situation. Bartkowski & Bartke (2018) refer to this as objective characteristics.
  2. Willingness- a farmer’s willingness to adopt a measure, which relates for example to how a farmer perceives and evaluates a situation (e.g. risks, opportunities, capacities), experiences social pressure to behave in a certain manner, as well as their identity and beliefs. This is the most complex component of Millers behavioural model, for which the theoretical background is rooted in the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen 1985, 1991) and Value- Belief-Norm theory Ewert, 2015. Put simply these underpin the behavioural characteristics of the farmer Bartkowski & Bartke, 2018.
  3. Engagement - a farmer’s engagement with advisors or farmer networks, in other words how developed a farmer’s social capital is.

Graphical representation of the important components involved in decision making process of farmers for adaptation in the context of climate change. Derived from literature sources: Mills , 2017Bartkowski & Bartke, 2018Cardona , 2021Iyer , 2020, with and adapted Mills behavioural model at the centre.

Using the adapted decision making paradigm of Mills (2017) we conducted a review of the literature in relation to European farmers’ perception of climate change and adaptation, and its relevance to soil management measures. While not a fully comprehensive systematic review, it is to our knowledge the first to combine only European case studies in order to synthesize the present European farmers’ perspective of climate change and how this potentially relates or not to adoption of soil-related adaptation measures.

Review of Literature

Online search for literature

A review of the literature was carried out using first the search engine Scopus and a later stage Google scholar. We conducted a search focusing only on farmers’ perception of climate change in order to obtain papers which also included the themes of farmers’ climate change awareness, as well as adaptation. We did not narrow down the focus of the search with a soil search term, in order to gain a greater insight into the broader area of farmers and climate change adaptation.

The following search term was used: TITLE-ABS-KEY (famers AND perception AND climate AND change). This resulted in 1,800 papers being retrieved. Further filtering for European countries resulted in 297 papers remaining. These articles were then further filtered manually based on the following criteria: i) the study took part in an EU country, ii) there was a participatory process involved in the study e.g., group discussions or surveys, iii) the results of the paper were not as a result of a modelling exercise, i.e., with no primary participatory data provided and iv) the paper was in English.

The search was then repeated using the search term: TITLE-ABS-KEY (famers AND perception AND climate AND adaptation) 2. During the manual filtering two participatory studies had an additional paper associated with the study (i.e., two papers per study). These four papers were kept in the study, as the results of the papers differed to justify their inclusion. The additional Google scholar search resulted in one more paper. This resulted in a total of 25 papers to be reviewed, which also provided a broad geographic spread to give an insight into farmers’ climate change perceptions and potential adaptation behaviours in the climate risk regions identified across Europe (Figure 2). A further additional paper was added to the review after feedback during the CLIMASOMA webinar held on the 24th of September 2021. Thus, making a total of 26 key papers included in the systematic review. An additional paper was used for the assessment of farmer types.

Online search for relevant EU projects

The EU Cordis website and EU Life project database was searched for all relevant EU projects which involved stakeholder participation in the context of climate change and climate change mitigation. It also linked to the work outlined in Untangling the effect of climatic drivers with space-for-time or manipulation experiments . We opted for this because in many cases the activities relating to farmers’ adoption of measures for mitigation and adaption are synergistic. This search led to the identification of several EU projects, of which the data and results could be used to support the context setting of the research outlined in this report regarding climate change risk and the decision making of farmers (Figure 1). We focussed on the two most relevant projects.

The EU Life project, Agri-adapt, was used to help provide the climate risk contexts for this study. The results of this project found that there were four major climate risk regions, facing various climate change risks and opportunities Figure 2.

The EU FP7 CATCH-C project (EU2020), was used to provide additional insight into farmer’s drivers and barriers for adopting two soil related adaptation measures, conservation tillage and cover crops. These measures were selected as they were the most widely adopted throughout the European regions covered in the CATCH-C project.

Agri Adapt climate risk regions, as well as the list of climate risks and opportunities outlined for each climate risk region. Red – southern climate risk region, yellow-Atlantic risk region, blue – northern climate risk region and green – continental risk region. The numbers refer to the number of papers found in the literature review for each of the climate risk regions. Two papers are not included in the numbers presented in the map, as both papers were studies which included two regions in their study, one paper had the Atlantic/Southern region (France), and one paper had the Atlantic/Continental regions (Germany).

Text mining and analysis

The selected papers were then systematically reviewed for the following aspects outline in Figure 3. This was done through manually text mining each paper. To carry out the text mining, associated statements were first extracted from the papers, key words were then identified and looked for within the text. Following this step all other relevant statements were then identified and extracted from the papers’ texts.

Table 1 provides examples of key words and statements associated with each aspect. The extracted statements were then organised per reviewed paper in an excel sheet according to several pre-defined categories (Supplementary materials Chapter 3 ). Once extracted, the statements were further analysed for key repeating terms and from this a frequency analysis was carried out.

Graphical overview of topics systematically reviewed in literature based on the important components for decision making and climate change context as shown in Figure 1

In the case of identifying barriers and drivers for farmers, these statements were selected from the papers either because they were explicitly referred to as: drivers or barriers, constraints for the farmers or limiting factors for adoption of adaption measures (Supplementary materials Chapter 3 Annex V). However, in some papers there were very integrated narratives or results of multifactorial statistical analysis provided and, in these cases, it was not always so clear what was a driver or barrier - potentially grey areas - these grey areas were left out here. Farmer’s needs were also identified from results and conclusion parts of the articles reviewed, see Table 1.

In the review of the literature several articles outlined the concept of identifying “farmer types” to enable an effective and pragmatic engagement with farmers to support them in their process of climate change (CC) adaptation Pröbstl-Haider , 2016Barnes & Toma, 2012Hammes , 2016Käyhkö, 2019. These farmer types were analysed and summarised and from this a CC adaptability spectrum was derived based on the descriptions of the farmer types identified in the various studies (see Supplementary materials Chapter 3 Annex VI).

Summarised examples of statements and key words used for text mining


Example key words


Goal of text mining

Weather events

temperature, drought, storms, hail, rain, flooding, frost, extreme weather events, season

“more extreme weather events (such as hailstorms, spring droughts and downpours)”1

To determine the types of weather conditions occurring at the locations of the surveys, the weather conditions the farmers were experiencing or perceiving to experience

Farmer’s CC awareness and perception of risk2

perception, awareness, risk

“Smaller farmers are more aware of CC” 3



“less sceptical farmers (are) about climate change were those who had first-hand experience of adverse natural events.”4

To determine the potential factors that influence a farmer’s level of cc awareness and understanding of the related cc risks and opportunities.

Adaptation measures 5

Tillage, cover crop, amendments, mulching, rotation




“of the farmers ..willing to adapt...were ready to use new drought- and pest-resistant crops”.6


To determine what the farmers are currently doing or willing to do to reduce their vulnerability to climate change risks


Soil adaptation measures

Soil, soil management, structure, properties



“took up no-till ...

to increase soil moisture and soil organic matter content”7

To determine, intention of management strategies specifically mentioning benefits to/from soil or soil properties e.g., improve soil water holding capacity, reduce compaction, soil management change, no tillage to improve soil moisture

Barriers and Drivers

Driver, barrier, likelihood to adapt, increase/decrease capabilities, positive/negative effect



“The largest single barrier ...(for) adaptation

measures are perceived to be .... policy regulations”8


“constrained by limited financing”7


To identify the barriers and drivers which are leading to farmers adopting CC adaptation strategies

Farmer’s needs

Help, needs, key actions

“most farmers said that it is important to adapt at farm level”


To identify what the farmers are saying as their needs to support their adoption of adaptation approaches

1.     Statement taken from Käyhkö, 2019

2.     This was a quantitative aspect also.

3.     Statements taken from: Jänecke , 2016; Nguyen , 2016

4.     Statement taken from Nguyen , 2016

5.     Adaptation measures identified as part of Soil and crop management for climate-smart soils

6.     Statement from Galdies , 2016

7.     Statement from Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021

8.     Statement from Woods , 2017

9.     Statement from Hovelsrud , 2015


Perception of climate risks or opportunities

Farmer’s Climate change awareness, experiences and perceived risks and opportunities

Range of percentages reported for climate change awareness of farmers across the four climate risk regions1,2,3

Believe in CC

Don’t Believe in CC


















1. Atlantic (n=8), Continental (n=5), Southern (n=6), North (n=2), n refers to no of studies.

2. An additional study was added here (Smit et al. 2019), which also provided insight into three of the different climate risk regions, Atlantic, Southern and Continental

3. Values are rounded to the nearest decimal point

From the literature reviewed, the results indicate that there is a high awareness of climate change across a broad European geographic of farmers (Table 2). However, it must be noted here, that these are summarised results combined in a simplified way, as “climate change” was framed differently in different studies e.g., as anthropogenic or natural. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at the absolute results of this table. However, the relative aspects are what should be noted here e.g., higher or lower.

On average approx. 81% of the farmers interviewed recognize some form of climate change, with approx. 8% still rejecting that climate change is happening at all. Of the latter, many believe the extreme weather events they experienced to be either weather anomalies or natural fluctuations of weather Nguyen , 2016Käyhkö, 2019. When investigated further to determine if farmers perceived CC weather risks to their farm, it was found that a relatively high percentage of farmers interviewed (41-90%) across several countries (Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, Malta and England, n=6) perceived changing weather patterns on their farms to be negative (CC). However, in the study of Jänecke , 2016, some of the farmers interviewed (24%) experienced advantages of weather changes to their farm.

When asked about future or more long-term CC impacts and the effects this may have on them directly, approx. 44% of farmers were unsure or didn’t have an opinion, 45% of farmers perceived the CC risks to be negative for them and their farms. However approx. 10% saw CC impacts to be positive Barnes & Toma, 2012Sorvali , 2021Tzemi & P. Breen, 2016Woods , 2017Smit , 2019. These positive results were mostly found in the northern Atlantic and northern country regions, reflecting the predicted positive climate change (CC) effects of longer growing seasons and warmer summers AgriAdapt, 2017.

In many of the studies reviewed, the entry point for farmers discussing climate change was in relation to weather patterns and changing weather or seasonal patterns, we discuss this further in the next section.

Weather events and farmer’s risk perceptions.

Frequency of studies mentioning weather events related to CC hazards

In general, the weather events mentioned in the studies, particularly those relating to farmers concerns, are aligning with the climate change weather events outlined in the EU Life Agri Adapt project (Figure 1). Weather is the daily and annual experience of a farmer and in many cases farmers have weather stations on their farms to compare and analyse these short-term fluctuations, whereas climate change is classically measured over decades Cardona , 2021Hamilton-Webb , 2017. The entry point for farmers discussing climate change was weather patterns and changing weather or seasonal patterns Nguyen , 2016Käyhkö, 2019Hamilton-Webb , 2017. One example of this was outlined by Nguyen (2016), who identified that “increased or decreased temperature patterns are “touchable” phenomena that farmers can personally feel by themselves, whereas rainfall amount is less easily observed and perceived by human senses without appropriate instruments”. Therefore, when farmers perceptions were compared with real regional weather data there were sometimes deviations in what the farmer’s perceived to experience and what had actually occurred Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021Graveline & Grémont, 2021Cohen , 2014Nguyen , 2016.

Furthermore, perceptions differed among farmers for interpreting and understanding climate patterns based on their differing contexts and experiences Jänecke , 2016Nguyen , 2016Eggers , 2015. In some cases, differences between farmer perceptions related to the type of farming system, for example a dairy farmer will have a different annual calendar of farm tasks when compared to an arable farmer. This means that the weather patterns they are exposed to, expect or experience throughout the year will differ and thus their perception of potential risks will differ too Cohen , 2014Nguyen , 2016.

Another example of differing perspectives among similar farmer groups is the use of technologies. Graveline & Grémont (2021) found that the farmers using irrigation technologies were less perceptive to the effects of climate change, such as drought, because their irrigation management mitigated the true impacts of increased drought events.

Further influential factors on a farmer’s perception of climate change and the potential consequences were**: age, education, location** and farm size Jänecke , 2016Cohen , 2014Eggers , 2015LI , 2017. However, there wasn’t always unanimous agreement between these factors or the combination of these factors. One example of this variability is farm size. In some cases farmers with smaller farms were more aware of CC and perceived the risks more strongly (Jänecke (2016)), in other cases it was larger farmers that seemed to be more aware of CC effects (Smith (2012)). For some of these cases the researchers related these differences to the economic situation of the farmer and how dependent the farmer was on their farm income as part of their total income. In other words how vulnerable their income was to the effects of CC (Cohen et al. 2014; Jänecke et al. 2016; Li et al. 2017).

A common observation across many of the studies was that first-hand experience of adverse weather events related to climate change did influence the farmer’s perception of risks (Menapace, Colson, and Raffaelli 2015; Nguyen et al. 2016). However, there were also “paradoxical” cases found where farmers believed in CC experienced losses due to weather events which could be attributed to climate change, but did not associate their losses with CC (Jørgensen & Termansen (2016)). In many of these cases farmers failed to make the connection between climate change and the adverse weather events they were experiencing. In other words, they were aware of climate change, but considered it to be something of a global phenomenon, not a local one and therefore, did not perceive it as a risk for their farm or for their livelihood. Furthermore, they perceived these adverse weather events as some sort of variation in the weather Jørgensen & Termansen, 2016Hamilton-Webb , 2017.

To summarise, these results illustrate how European farmers experience and perceive their risks or opportunities relating to weather events and climate change and how they differ vastly, across a multitude of factors. Many of these factors are interrelated combining characteristic factors (Figure 1) of their farm, such as between farming type, location, socio-economic aspects, as well as behavioural characteristics such as, personal attitudes and norms (awareness) in relation to climate change and its potential effects (positive or negative).

But the question is: ‘Does this awareness and perception of climate change consequences drive farmers’ adaptation behaviour, particularly in relation to soil-related climate adaptation measures.’

Are climate change concerns driving farmer’s adaptation behaviour?

Studies included in the review hypothesized that the psychological distance of climate change (Spence (2012)) should have a large influence on whether farmers have or would implement adaptation strategies to reduce the effects of climate change events Galdies , 2016Hamilton-Webb , 2017. This is where climate change events are more tangible to the farmer, as they have had experience with such events recently, or they have occurred to them personally or in close vicinity to them (geographically), or people in their social network, region or country have experienced them. When these climate events are more real or tangible the result is a greater likelihood that adaptation measure will be put in place. However, the findings from these studies, as well as the results from this review, illustrate that farmer decision making for adaptation is more complex than expected.

Many of the articles reviewed found that farmers who were both aware of CC, experienced its effects and who were also highly perceptive of the associated risks and opportunities, were more likely to adopt adaptation strategies on their farms Merloni , 2018Woods , 2017Käyhkö, 2019. While, several other studies found the opposite, climate change concern was not the direct cause of farmer’s adaptation behaviour Jørgensen & Termansen, 2016Hamilton-Webb , 2017LI , 2017. In these latter studies, other socio-economic indicators or farm risk factors appeared to have more influence on the farmers management strategies. According to Hamilton-Webb (2017), “farmers were most likely to rate climate change as a low risk to business, when presented with other potential threats, such as risk from market price fluctuations, animal disease, changes to agricultural policy and extreme weather”. It is important to note here again, that in some cases farmers did not make the connection between extreme weather events and climate change. It is also this lack of connection which can have important ramifications for famers adaptation strategies and for CC policies and communication strategies to address the need for adaptation in the agricultural sector Hovelsrud , 2015Merloni , 2018Jørgensen & Termansen, 2016Käyhkö, 2019LI , 2017.

Mitter (2019) summarised the situation very well in their study of Austrian farmers, “most adaptation measures have been or are planned to be implemented due to a mix of climatic and non-climatic reasons...therefore, engagement strategies to strengthen adaptation in agriculture should consider regional peculiarities, farm type-specific needs and challenges, farmers’ socio-cognitive processes, and adaptation costs and benefits. Promoting multi-purpose adaptation could be a promising option in order to increase adaptation intention .. among farmers”

Therefore, it is also good to understand in general what kind of adaptation measures farmers are currently implementing on their farm or what they propose to implement on their farms, be that due to climate change alone or a combination of factors, perhaps indirectly related to climate change. We show the overview of adopted adaptation measures in the next section.

Adaptation measures implemented or proposed by farmers

Percentage frequency of different adaptation strategies mentioned in the papers reviewed (n=18, not all papers reviewed included adaptation), explanation of terms in text below

In many of the studies reviewed they found that farmers’ preferences for adaptation are simple, flexible and cost-effective measures to their current farming system, rather than larger measures which cannot be easily modified again afterwards Eggers , 2015Woods , 2017. The most prevalent adaptation measures mentioned are presented in Figure 5.

The most frequent adaption strategy mentioned relates to modifying cropping management, with crop diversification being the main measure mentioned, followed by drought tolerant crops, cover/catch crops and crop rotations. The latter two measures being important options for soil-related climate adaptation, see Soil and crop management for climate-smart soils. For the southern regions, drought-tolerant crops were one of the most frequently mentioned adaptation strategies.

Tillage practices are important soil related climate adaptation strategies which a farmer can implement, as it can contribute to increases in organic matter content, as well as having either a positive or negative influence on the physical structure of the soil, which in turn can affect a soil’s water holding capacity, soil porosity and erosion potential. Furthermore, soil tillage can influence the soil’s biodiversity (e.g., worms) which also in turn can have knock on effects on for example the soil infiltration rates or organic carbon content (for further insights into tillage practices on soil please see chapter Soil and crop management for climate-smart soils. The tillage strategies referred to in the paper’s reviewed were reduced, minimum and no tillage. These were the descriptions provided, but for many cases no clear indication of plough depth was provided

In terms of amendments, many farmers were looking at strategies to reduce or efficiently use inorganic fertiliser, with one or two of them discussing options of mulching and manure applications, both important for soil related climate adaptation.

Water management system is an aggregated term for the restructuring of (part of) the farm landscape to ensure better water storage or protect from flooding through buffering e.g., using dykes and ditches, water storage reservoirs. These changes to the water resources management are therefore different from irrigation strategies which aimed to improve water use efficiency of crops (i.e., less losses, improved uptake). It can also be seen in Figure 5, that these are two very important climate adaptation strategies in the southern regions, those at most risk of severe drought events.

In some studies part of the farmer adaptation strategy was to increase their engagement with extension services, advisors, farmer networks and cooperatives (social capital). In some extreme cases farmers would consider leaving farming entirely if CC risks became too high. They were generally farmers with smaller holdings, lower capital for investing in adaptation strategies and, or had no successor to pass the farm onto Eggers , 2015Cohen , 2014.

However, what is not entirely clear from this overview of adaptation measures is what role soil, or soil health plays in the implementation of adaptation strategies. We look at this in the next section.

CC adaptation measure - specific focus on soil

Nine out of 19 papers (47%) were found to have a direct reference to soil health when exploring adaptation options to climate change, with a greater number of papers in the Northern and Southern regions including soil related adaptation measures. Figure 6b, shows that papers including soil-related adaptation measures appeared to increase with time and after 2018 all papers reviewed including some sort of soil-related measures. The management strategies mentioned were a mixture of cropping, tillage and amendments (see Section %s).

Percentage frequency of CC awareness and adaptation strategies mentioned in the papers reviewed that had a direct link to soil structure and health a) grouped according to climate risk regions and b) grouped according to year of publication

Soil structure and soil health was used and incorporated into the studies in a variety of ways. In the study of Jørgensen & Termansen (2016) precipitation events and their effects to soil were used as a proxy for climate change impacts as a means of engaging better with Danish farmers. The study of Eggers (2015) found that soil structure made farmers more aware of climate change. In one of their case study regions in Germany. Farmers working on low-quality soils (higher sand content and limited water holding capacity) and continental climate, had a higher climate change awareness than the farmers in a contrasting Alpine region. This was because they experienced the effects of drought stress much more and made them more vulnerable to the effects of the drought.

In the northern regions, Sorvali (2021) survey of Finnish farmers found that “adaptation measures were seen in the context of good agricultural practices and maintenance of soil conditions”. Furthermore, Ibrahim & Johansson (2021) study received the feedback from farmers on the island of Öland off the coast of Sweden that there was a lack of “advisory support on improving soil quality and conservation agriculture (related to soil management)”.

In some of the papers one of the reasons for inclusion of soil-related climate adaptation measures, was due to its inclusion by the researchers themselves, e.g. as a topic in their surveys or interviews with farmers Graveline & Grémont, 2021Jørgensen & Termansen, 2016Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021Ronchail , 2014. This could have created a bias, as it is unclear if farmers themselves would have brought up this matter. However, in the general overall context of farmer’s climate change adaptation strategies, from this limited review, soil health was not found to be the main point of entry for European farmers. This is also supported by the review of Bartkowski & Bartke (2018) who found that “..... hardly any study had a specific focus on soil management, most ....had only an indirect link to soil....”. In this study the predominant focus of many of the farmers included in these studies (mainly conventional farmers) was on their crops. This is logical as for many farmers this is their main source of income and what is tangible to the farmer. Crops are also one of the easiest management strategies to adapt e.g., using a newer drought-resistant cultivar instead of a less drought-resistant cultivar (Section %s).

Farmers’ barriers and drivers for adoption of adaptation measures

Barriers and drivers at the farm level

There is a wide variety of interacting factors explaining why farmers either adopted or were willing to adopt certain measures to reduce the impacts of climate change events. The reasons are organised into groups in Figure 7. Many of the reasons provided relate to farmers’ ability to adopt measures, their willingness to adopt measures (behavioural characteristic of the farmer) and their level of engagement with, e.g., other farmers, farm networks or advisors.

As already pointed out above, the more aware and concerned farmers are about climate change the more likely they are to adopt adaptation measures. Awareness is one of the major drivers for adoption of climate change adaptation measures Barnes & Toma, 2012Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021Woods , 2017.

Predominant categories of barriers (B) and drivers (D) for farmers in relation to climate change adaptation strategies. Rel & Access Tech = relationship and access to technology, Access to Info = access to CC adaptation information, CC & Risks = awareness of CC and its associated risks, Policy & Reg= Policy and regulations.

Finance, depending on the farmers’ context, can either be a barrier or driver for climate adaptation. The contexts that were identified as barriers for adaptation related to farmers concern about sizeable investment costs and returns, ability to access sustainable financial capital, preference for more simple and cost effective solutions, as well as the fear that the “wrong adaptations” might lead to lower market price for their crop Hammes , 2016Hovelsrud , 2015Cohen , 2014Galdies , 2016Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021Ronchail , 2014. With regards to financial drivers, the contexts related to: dependency on farm income (i.e. the more dependent the more likely they were to adopt changes), financially better off farmers had a greater ability to invest in adaptation strategies and technologies, and farmer’s risk preferences, the more risk averse the more likely they were to adapt (i.e. behavioural decision-making related to climate change concerns) Merloni , 2018Graveline & Grémont, 2021Hamilton-Webb , 2017.

Another driver found in many of the papers was the social capital, or level of engagement of the farmers, as these connections seemed to increase their adaptability to CC e.g. farmers engaging with other farmers, farmer’s organisations or cooperative Graveline & Grémont, 2021Cohen , 2014Nguyen , 2016Li , 2017. However, this was again not always the case. Ibrahim and Johansson 2021 found that some farmers in their study region had a “negative social mindset” and this acted as a barrier for adoption of certain CC measures (e.g., having own machinery not willing to share between them) in the Northern region.

Access to information and support for climate change adaptation was again either a barrier or driver depending on the farmer’s context. Good access to information and opportunities to engage in co-learning or education had a positive impact on CC adaptation Hovelsrud , 2015Nguyen , 2016Bojovicab , 2012Li , 2017. In cases where the farmers had poor knowledge or were not supported effectively through, for example advisory services, lack of information was a barrier for CC adaptation Hamilton-Webb , 2017Galdies , 2016Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021. It was common throughout many of the papers, for farmers to state that they would like more information and advice about climate change risks and how to prepare their adaptation strategies better. Furthermore, in many studies the lack of adequate advisory support was found to be a relevant barrier to action. Another aspect mentioned was the need for better weather reports available in a timely fashion to farmers Nguyen , 2016Bojovicab , 2012Bonzanigo , 2015, as this would help the farmer to prepare better for weather events. Policy and regulations again can be a barrier or driver for farmers depending on context and location.

Policies and regulations acting as drivers for farmers are those which provide incentives and financial assistance for CC adaptation, enabling the implementation of certain adaptation measure (e.g. irrigation) Graveline & Grémont, 2021Hovelsrud , 2015. However, in many contexts policy and regulations were a very relevant barrier for farmers to implement adaptation measures, with some perceiving top-down policies, such as the European Common Agricultural Policy, as being too restrictive and not supporting good adaptation practices. Farmers were concerned that CC adaptations could conflict with cross-compliance rules, resulting in loss of income Käyhkö, 2019Ibrahim & Johansson, 2021Woods , 2017.

Many of the Barriers and Drivers found in the CC adaptation literature reviewed are still on a more general farm level combining several technical measures, with none of the studies exploring in detail the barriers or drivers for implementing specific individual soil related adaptation measures. From Section %s, farmers are implementing adaptation measures on their farms due to a mixture of climatic and non-climatic reasons.

“Adaptation by any other name… is still adaptation” Woods , 2017

In the next section more detailed descriptions of the barriers and drivers which farmers have in relation to tillage and cover crops is provided from the EU FP7 CATCH-C project (Supplementary materials Chapter 3 Annex III). These are two of the most important soil adaptation measures (Soil and crop management for climate-smart soils ).

Barriers and Drivers for specific technical measure - Tillage(CATCH-C project)

Adoption and behaviour of farmers towards non-inversion tillage and no- tillage was studied in 19 European Farm Type Zones (FTZs) across all eight countries participating in CATCH-C. The results were generated from a survey consisting of approx. 2,500 farmers (please see Supplementary materials Chapter 3-Annex III for better understanding of FTZs and the CATCH-C project).

Range of adoption rates for conservation tillage for the CATCH-C FTZs grouped according to the climate risk regions of this study: (Atl) Atlantic (13-66%), (Con) Continental (6-86) and Southern (14-68%). Different letters denote significant difference on a level of p<0.05, Anova p=0.46.

Figure 8 shows the adoption rates for the climate risk regions included in CATCH-C, with a bigger range of adoption observed for the FTZs (see Supplementary materials Chapter 3-Annex III) found in the continental region, than the other two climate risk region – Atlantic and Southern. In general, they found that adoption rates of non-inversion tillage and no-tillage was much lower on dairy farms than on arable farms, as to be expected since tillage plays less of a role in dairy (with mostly grassland that is not generally tilled). They also found that there was a high variability in adoption rate among (the 19) FTZs, however within countries, this adoption rate seemed to differ less. The top three types of barriers and drivers that farmers provided for these differing adoption rates across the different FTZs can be seen in Figure 9.

Frequency analysis to summarise the top three drivers and barriers for all farmers for adopting and implementing conservation tillage measures on their farms, aggregated to topics. (Data taken from the report of (Pronk et al. 2015), Table 10 and Table 11) . D = Driver and B= Barrier. Soil state refers here to soil properties and condition of soil.

From Figure 9 the major driver for adopting conservation tillage or no tillage practices for farmers are the multiple benefits to soil health. The reasons provided by farmers ranged from improving soil structure and soil life to increases in soil organic matter and prevention of soil erosion. The top three drivers (Figure 9) to enhance the willingness of farmers to adopt conservation tillage were determined to be related to the attitudes of the farmers – their personal belief of what could or should happen if conservation tillage would be implemented (Figure 1). The CATCH-C study also showed that farmer’s attitudes towards the different tillage practices varied across the various FTZs.

The greatest barrier for adopting conservation tillage related to crop production and the risk of greater pressure from weeds, as well as the knock-on effect of an increased need to use crop protection measures (financial) according to the farmers. In some cases, farmers also indicated the state of their soil (soil state) as a barrier. With some farmers believing that the use of conservation tillage could reduce soil water retention or accentuate water logging, while other farmers stated as a reason that their soils are heterogeneous. The top three barriers reducing farmers willingness to adopt conservation tillage were, therefore, determined to be a mixture of attitude and perceived behavioral control with some subjective norm (Figure 1). A perceived behavioural control is defined as the perception of how easy or difficult it would be to adopt conservation tillage. A subjective norm is the perceived social pressure, a sort of peer pressure to do something. The CATCH-C project showed that the decision making of farmers resulting in their non- adoption of the different tillage types could be quite a complex matter.

Only a brief select summary is provided here of the CATCH-C survey details, for more information on these results please see the CATCH-C reports and peer reviewed articles ( Supplementary materials Chapter 3-Annex III). Another adaptation measure studied in more detail in the CATCH-C project is the use of cover crops. We discuss this next.

Barriers and Drivers for specific technical measure -Cover crops (CATCH-C project)

The adoption rates for the use of cover crops in the different climate risk regions included in the CATCH-C project are shown in Figure 10. Adoption rates in the southern climate risk regions were significantly lower than in the other two regions. Country was found to be an important factor in explaining variation in adoption rate among different FTZs, with no striking differences among farming types (e.g., dairy or arable). The country difference could in some cases be related to legal obligations for including cover crops in a rotation. For example, Dutch farmers have a legal obligation to grow cover crops after maize cultivation on sandy and loess soils.They found that farmers across the European FTZs were in agreement with the scientific evidence that cover crops are beneficial for their soils. The top three types of barriers and drivers that farmers provided for these differing adoption rates across the different FTZs can be seen in Figure 11.

It is clear from Figure 11 that one of the major drivers for growing cover crops relates to improving the state of the soil (e.g., structure, soil organic matter), lower erosion risk, reduce nutrient leaching. The top three drivers to enhance the willingness of farmers to adopt cover crops were determined to be again related to the attitudes of the farmers (Figure 1). The CATCH-C study also showed that farmer’s attitudes towards cover crops again varied across the various FTZs.

Range of adoption rates for cover crops for the CATCH-C FTZs grouped according to the climate risk regions included in this study; (Atl) Atlantic (14-95%), (Con) Continental (42-100%) and Southern (1-55%). Different letters denote significant difference on a level of p<0.05, anova p=0.004, followed by holm corrected pairwise t-test.

The reasons provided as barriers for growing cover crops are more varied across the various FTZs than the drivers, even within countries. The major barrier is the additional (financial) cost required for such operations (e.g., fuel, seeds). Social barriers were also found to be very important, particularly in the southern regions, for example, where family and other farmers were provided as reasons for non-adoption. The top three barriers reducing farmers willingness to adopt cover crops were therefore, determined to be a mixture of attitude and perceived behavioural control with some subjective norm (Figure 10).

“In general, farmer’s social environment stimulates farmers to sow cover crops, except for France. Farmers in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland feel stimulated by extension services, not only because extension services are positive towards sowing cover crops, but also because farmers seem to add much value to the opinion of the extension services. An exception are the Italian dairy farmers who feel discouraged by the feed advisors to sow cover crops. In the Netherlands, farmers perceive the positive opinion of literature and study clubs as important drivers” - Pronk (2015)

Frequency analysis summarising the top three drivers (D) and barriers (B) for all farmers for adopting and implementing cover crops on their farms, aggregated to topics. (Data Pronk (2015), Table 6). (avail info= available information). Soil state refers here to soil properties and condition of soil.

The results of the EU FP7 CATCH-C project outlined here shows the large diversity of farmer types across Europe, as well as the diverse set of reasoning they have for either adopting or not adopting soil-related adaptation measures such as conservation tillage or cover crops. What they also show is that farmers are very much aware of the benefits to soil that both measures can provide, but despite this, there are still significant barriers which result in their non-adoption of these measures. The lack of willingness to adopt these measures comes from a very broad spectrum of behavioural reasoning, from perception of social pressures, (e.g., other farmers aren’t doing it) to the perception that implementing such soil adaptation measures would not be easy because it would be more costly, take more time, or cause yield loss or soil damage. In other cases, the reasons related more to the ability of the farmer, relating to the properties or state of their soil (e.g., high clay content, too heterogeneous), lack of finance for machinery, not enough labour resources to carry out such tasks. In several cases it was a combination of all the three components of Mills (2017) behavioural model: willingness, ability and engagement.

Within the climate adaptation literature reviewed for this study (Supplementary materials Chapter 3-Annex IV), it was not possible to deduct the intricacies of farmers decision making behaviour regarding specific adaptation measures and in particular soil-related adaptation measures. Therefore, this is an area that needs further research to understand the level of climate change concern a farmer may need in order to overcome their perceived or actual barriers for implementing specific soil-related adaptation measures. However, literature research is only the starting point for meeting some of the farmers needs to support their adaptation. These needs are discussed in the next section.

Farmer’s needs to support adaptation

Climate change adaptation is defined as making “adjustments.. in response to actual or expected climatic.. effects or impacts.. (to reduce vulnerabilities)... and to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change” Smit & Pilifosova, 2003Cardona , 2012. It is clear that there is a large variability in European farmer’s adaptation strategies to climate change risks or opportunities. Soil management strategies are not the main entry-point for farmers dealing with climate change adaptation. In general, it is rather crops, as this is where farmers see their income affected.

For effective climate change adaptation policies to be developed, it is not only important to understand the potential impact of hazards (climate events), vulnerability and exposure on the objective aspects of a farmer’s business (e.g. infrastructures, fields, income), but it is also imperative to understand how farmer’s themselves, experience, perceive and interpret these CC risks, as this plays a strong role in a farmer’s adaptation behaviour and decision making Merloni , 2018Hamilton-Webb , 2017Galdies , 2016Woods , 2017Sulewski , 2020Hyland , 2015Menapace , 2015. Therefore, “Acknowledging farmers’ attitudes and beliefs ...(is) an important component in understanding the responsiveness of the agricultural sector...(and) improve the robustness of agricultural systems to climate change” Jørgensen & Termansen, 2016. The need for understanding the diverse decision-making processes of European farmers can also be seen in the review of the EU Horizon CATCH-C project, as although the farmers were aware of all the benefits of adapting their soil management, they still decided against implementation (Section %s). Indeed, one of the key recommendations of the CATCH-C project was the need to prioritise soil adaptation strategy goals more locally.

Furthermore, “...communication needs to.. emphasize the connection between climate change and extreme weather events to allow for farmers to perceive climate change as a relevant and locally salient phenomenon, and subsequent tailored information and advice should be offered to clearly illustrate the best means of on-farm response” Hamilton-Webb , 2017 Part of this improved communication strategies could be to encourage greater involvement in farmer social networks, as social learning has been recognised as a very important means to enhance knowledge and adaptive capacities of farmers (Nguyen (2016)). This was also a key recommendation of the Life Agri Adapt project. Another way is greater interaction with technical advisors, but perhaps in a more “hands- on” manner in field days and open days where farmers can see the practical advantages of certain management changes (Menapace (2015)).

It was also shown that the more concerned a farmer is with climate change risks and opportunities, the more likely they will adapt. Nevertheless, the decisive factors for driving adaptation relate to other, more tangible risks (e.g., market prices, pest and disease). Thus, mixtures of both non-climatic and climatic reasons are leading farmers to change the management strategies on their farms Barnes & Toma, 2012Mitter , 2019Käyhkö, 2019Merloni , 2018. Mitter et al. suggested that the best way could be to promote “multi-purpose adaptation strategies” in order to increase adaptation intention even within groups that might be sceptical of CC and its effects on their farm business. However, engagement strategies need to consider the context specificities and needs of the farm (e.g., region, farm type), as well as type of farmer and their unique socio-cognitive processes that lead to CC adaptative decision making. Indeed, several studies promoted the use of “farmer types” to “enable the effective transfer and exchange of knowledge which can encourage.. adoption of adaptation and mitigation measures” (Hyland (2015)). We discuss this in the next section.

Suggested options for better farmer engagement – Farmer Types

According to the IPCC “Climate adaptability is defined as “the ability, competency or capacity to adapt to (to alter, to better suit) climatic stimuli “ Smit , 2001. Figure 12 presents the spectrum of farmer types identified in the literature in combination with the summarised descriptions of their adaptability potential, organised according to the important components involved in decision making outlined by Mills (2017). From the literature two extreme farmer types could be identified. These were “the innovative type” and “conservative type”, as well as one farmer type who more than likely is found somewhere in the middle of these two. The latter falls into the “maximiser type” – a farmer type whose decision-making process is driven primarily by increasing yields or financial gains (Supplementary materials Chapter 3-Annex VI).

While this is a very broad generalisation, it is still a useful thinking process to help structure the complexities involved in trying to understand the diverse spectrum of farmers and factors influencing their decision making in the context of climate change adaptation. The main reason being that these different farmer types will have differing level of responsiveness to different modes of engagement and communication, e.g., education and training, adopting technologies, increasing their social networks. Conservative farmers are more passive in their behaviour, are less informed about CC adaptation measures and need a more pro-active approach to change their behaviour. For maximisers, information about the economic or yield benefits of CC adaptation measures could be effective. Innovative farmers are already actively seeking for information and involved in networks. Connecting these networks to each other and greater knowledge resources (e.g., research) can stimulate them towards further adaptation measures.

Furthermore, within different regions and farming systems, there will be a large variety of types. However, the ends of the spectrum correspond to what we found in our literature review: those with a higher adaptability (innovative type) and those with a lower (conservative type). Barnes & Toma (2012) identified another type, namely the “disengaged farmer”. This is a farmer who essentially has no clear motivational characteristics and seems to be impartial to many environmental and cc adaptation strategies.

Identifying and determining “farmer types” is an area that requires further research, particularly in relation to trying to motivate farmers to implement soil-related climate change adaptation strategies. Here the collection of primary data in combination with agent-based modelling can be a way to analyse the behaviour of different types of farmers.

Schematic to represent the potential spectrum of farmers adaptability and the” farmer types” that could be associated with the extreme ends of the spectrum and in the middle, as well as their description organised according to the decision-making component of Mills (2017).

Limitations of the study

Most studies have been conducted in the last 6-7 years and therefore, provide potentially good insight into farmers awareness and perceptions of climate change. However, after the experiences across Europe of extreme climate events (e.g., floods and fires) in the summer of 2021, the climate change awareness and perception of risk have increased. Therefore, the current willingness of farmers to adopt climate change adaptation measures including soil may have altered and a different behavioural landscape may now exist.

The increasing volume of data being gathered as part of the various EU projects, for example, the EU LIFE GREAT LIFE project, EU H2020 Best4Soil project, EU LIFE SOIL4LIFE project might provide even greater insight into European farmers climate change adaptation behaviours and should be further explored. Nevertheless, to our knowledge, there is still only limited data available to provide the necessary insight into the complex interactions between farm and farmer characteristics, climatic region and soil related climate adaptation measures.


The results of this literature review indicate that the more aware and concerned a farmer is about the impacts and risks of climate change, the more likely he will adopt an adaptation strategy. However, for many farmers adaptation was not purely based on the perception of climate change risks alone. Their decisions are based on both climatic and non-climatic reasons. Therefore, more effective engagement strategies to encourage soil-related adaptation measures should consider ‘multi-purpose’ frameworks that cover the many areas of risk and opportunities that a farmer faces. Furthermore, soil-related adaptation strategies are not always the most prevalent measures being mentioned by farmers in the context of climate change adaptation. In many cases it appeared that the focus for farmers was on adaptations for supporting their crops and yields. However, in recent years there is a trend, in scientific literature at least, towards also including soil health as a target.

Within the climate adaptation literature reviewed for this study, it was not possible to deduct the intricacies of farmers decision-making behaviour regarding drivers and barriers for specific soil-related adaptation measures. This is because many of the barriers and drivers identified in the papers were based on a more general farm level, which investigates several interacting issues across several specific management measures. The barriers and drivers for adoption of adaptation strategies were found to be: awareness of climate change and perception of risks, access to information on climate change & adaptation, social capital, financing, policy/regulations, and relationship and access to technologies. However, whether these factors were a driver or barrier depended on the context of the farmer and their farm. Thus, showing the importance of understanding the context of the farmers being approached, the local and regional peculiarities, as well as social and cultural issues that may be of importance. This was also the overall finding of the EU Horizon Catch-C project, which illustrated the large diversity of farmers across Europe, as well as the diverse set of reasoning they have for either adopting or not adopting soil-related adaptation measures such as conservation tillage or cover crops. Therefore, understanding the more intricate decision-making, related to farmer’s barrier and drivers, at farm level for adopting different soil management measures as climate change adaptations is an area that needs further research.

The development of farmer types is a useful approach to try and understand better the complexities of farmer decision-making. Grouping farmers in a particular location, based on objective characteristics of their farm (e.g., socio economic, farm type) in combination with their personal characteristics (e.g., profit seeking, pro-environment) may help to identify potential underlying factors driving farmers climate change adaptation decision-making. However, the development and use of such ‘farmer types’ requires further research to determine if it is a good means of assessing farmers potential climate change adaptability.

Awareness and perception of the associated climate change risks prove to be amongst the strongest drivers for climate change adaptation. Therefore, communication of climate change strategies needs to emphasize the connection between extreme weather events and climate change to enhance farmers understanding of the risks or opportunities that the changing climate poses for them. Such a communication strategy needs to be in language that farmers can relate to and understand. One example would be to explain climate change through weather events they experience. It is also important for soil-related adaptation strategies to be more context-specific and to communicate the benefits that soil management can bring about in the context of the extreme weather events they are experiencing directly.

Climate change adaptation takes place at the farm level. Therefore, strategies for CC adaptation strategies need to be designed for farmers at the farm level, and include the relevant information tailored to the weather events or patterns (climate effects) that that farmers are experiencing or can expect to experience. Such a tailored approach needs to engage directly with farmers to understand their barriers and drivers for climate change adaptation strategies. Through such a two-way dialogue process, the appropriate supports can be identified and potentially brought about to encourage adaptations in their farm management, including soil adaptation measures.

One of the barriers for adopting climate change adaptation strategies was lack of information or access to information on how specifically farmers need to adapt to changing climate. Therefore, there is a need to continue to enhance and build the empirical knowledge of soil management options under climatic stresses and make this available in a comprehensive and applicable way for advisors and farmers. There is also a potential for co-learning exchanges between soil scientists and farmers, through for example multi-stakeholder platforms or living labs.

Further additional needs for supporting the climate adaptation of farmers and the agricultural system are outlined in the summaries of the Life Agri Adapt project (Supplementary materials Chapter 3 Annex II) and EU Horizon CATCH-C project (Supplementary materials Chapter 3 Annex III)

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