Bottom up Adaptation Strategies for a Sustainable Europe

Farmers as potential water managers (Holstebro, Denmark)

The Climate Challenge

Holstebro is a Danish municipality (population app. 57.000) located on the Jutland peninsula. The second longest watercourse in Denmark, the Storåen, runs through the town (population app. 35.000), which is surrounded mainly by agricultural farmland. The municipality has experienced significant floods on a minimum of 9 occasions since 1918. The flooding events have occurred irregularly but recurrently over the past century and it is predicted that floods will continue to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change. The town of Holstebro is one of ten nationally appointed flood risk areas under the EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EC), where the risk of a 100-year flood event is high and substantial damages to buildings, housing and infrastructure may result from such events. Holstebro suffered serious floods in 2011 when several months of heavy snowfall were followed by intense rain and snowmelt. The town flooded again most recently in December 2015.


The Adaptation Response

Holstebro municipality adopted a local risk management plan in 2015 and a climate adaptation plan in 2014.  The municipality’s Climate Adaptation Plan is a strategic plan that aims to address several policy areas. This first plan for Holstebro is solely centred on problems related to increased precipitation and higher groundwater levels. One of the potential adaptation measures suggested in the Holstebro Climate Adaptation Plan is to let farmers in the surrounding areas act as water managers, where they can be compensated for letting their fields flood when Holstebro experiences flood events, thereby alleviating the worst impacts of flooding in the town centre.

A network of stakeholders has developed two potential solutions. The first is a compensation model where farmers are paid to be enrolled in a ‘farmer as water manager’ programme. In the case study, the compensation and other contractual elements are analysed. A second type of measure called a ‘supply model’ would entail authorities appointing flood relevant areas of farmland. Next, it would be up to the farmers in the area to pick from a list of adaptation measures and apply for compensation from the authorities. Based on this, the authorities would offer the farmers to sign a contract with a given sum for compensation. This second measure was not analysed in BASE as it requires further development.

Aarhus University analysed costs regarding farmers as water managers based on a choice experiment survey among land owners in the Storåen catchment area. Results indicate that the yearly costs of a farmer as water manager contract would be between 250Eur/ha and 450eur/ha, depending on the elements of the contract. The least expensive contract would involve allowing farmers to negotiate collectively, thereby increasing their bargaining power, and a full compensation in the event of crop loss in addition to a yearly payment for letting the land be available for potential flooding negotiation. The most expensive contract would entail individual negotiation with the municipality and no compensation in the event of crop loss; only the yearly service payment of making the land available for flooding. Compared to the current average contribution margins (i.e. income minus variable costs) in the area, farmers appear to demand a relatively high payment for letting their fields flood. This may be due to it being a new and unknown type of measure.

A total of 156 ha of farmland would need to be flooded in this particular case and be combined with a flood dam that would protect the town downstream in the case of a flood risk.


The People and Organisations Involved

The idea of potentially using farmers as water managers was an element in the Aquarius international research project (2009-2011) ( After this project was completed, the idea was taken up in a Danish climate change context by the Danish Knowledge Centre for Agriculture (today named SEGES), which established a network of stakeholders. The involved institutions included experts from the Knowledge Centre for Agriculture/SEGES together with experts from Aarhus University, consultancies, agricultural organizations representing the farmers upstream from the town and farmers themselves also participated. In addition public employees from Hostebro Municipality and other municipalities have been involved in developing the farmer as water manager measure.

The adaptation response involved governments at multiple levels. The Municipal Council of Holstebro developed the local climate adaptation plan and risk management plan. The Danish Government provided the impetus through the development and implementation of the National Adaptation Plan, which followed the adoption of the Flood Directive at the EU level.


The Outcome of Action

Currently, the climate adaptation measure has only been proposed, not decided or implemented. A number of different barriers to implementing the measure have been identified in the case study. For example, most or all farmers in the relevant area must sign up, farmers fear EU cross-compliance demands if they sign up and farmers don’t perceive high risks connected to climate change.



Anders Branth Pedersen (, Helle Ørsted Nielsen (, Marianne Zandersen ( or Mette Termansen (


Relevant Links

Pedersen, A.B., Nielsen, H.Ø., Zandersen, M., Termansen, M., Oddershede, J.S., 2015, Subgroup: Agriculture. Case-study: Climate adaptation in two Danish rural municipalities, EU FP-7 project BASE – Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies towards a Sustainable Europe. 2015. 174 pp.

Zandersen, M., Oddershede, J., Pedersen, A.B., Nielsen, H.Ø., Termansen, M., 2016, Payment for ecosystem services – paying farmers for using farmland for flood control, presentation at Adaptation Futures 2016 Rotterdam,


Full Report

The full report of this case study can be read here.


Photo © Farm in Jutland, Denmark (photo: Anders Branth Pedersen 2014)