Global climate change and increased pressure for adopting more sustainable agricultural practices call for new approaches in breeding forage crops. In the cool temperate regions of Europe these crops may benefit from a warmer and prolonged growing season, but new stresses may emerge during autumn and winter, whereas further south risk of drought will increase. In addition, future forage crops have to use both nutrients and water more efficiently maximize production per unit area. This paper presents examples of how perennial forage crops can be adapted to the projected European environmental conditions through breeding. In the Nordic region, the focus is on identifying traits that are important for high yields under changed overwintering conditions and management practices. In temperate maritime Europe, the breeding focus is on forage grass and legume root systems for ecosystem service, nutrient and water use, as well as the advantages and potential for Festulolium, including its role in ruminant nutrition. In temperate and southern Europe, breeders aim to develop varieties that can survive long drought periods and recover rapidly following autumn rains, as well as improving adapted legume species with the following aims: reducing use of synthetic fertilizers, mitigating the environmental impacts of ruminant production systems; and reducing their dependency on external protein-rich feeds. Forage production systems, which are commonly found in areas less suited to grain production, can contribute significantly to future food security but only if forage crops can be successfully adapted to meet future environmental challenges.