“Climate adap­ta­tion will be an ongoing process.”

The Euro­pean LIFE “Agri­Adapt” project has been working on the topic of climate adap­ta­tion for four years. Patrick Trötschler from the German project partner “Bodensee-Stiftung” speaks about the prospects in the cultivation sector and effi­cient drought preven­tion.

The Furrow: Mr. Trötschler, what was the Agri­Adapt project all about?

Patrick Trötschler: The fact is that farming oper­a­tions must adapt to climate change. But when you talk about 2° or 3°C warming, it remains very abstract in terms of prac­tical appli­ca­tions. We have devel­oped a climate change check for farmers to enable them to make better, more trans­parent deci­sions on adap­ta­tion. To do this, we predicted agro­cli­matic indi­ca­tors until 2046 on 120 pilot farms across Europe and analysed risks and oppor­tu­ni­ties. More­over, we created and distrib­uted training mate­rials for agri­cul­tural educa­tion and training.

How urgent is the need to adapt field cultivation prac­tise in terms of a higher drought risk?

We were asked by farmers again and again: What do we do now, are we supposed to change every­thing? It is impor­tant to stress that climate adap­ta­tion will be an ongoing process in the coming years and even decades. So, it’s a ques­tion of devel­oping an adap­tion strategy for every farm. And we need to differ­en­tiate between weather and climate. Despite the latest mete­o­ro­log­ical extremes, I’m scep­tical to assume that this will be the long-term devel­op­ment. However, it is becoming more and more unpre­dictable.

You have helped to develop adap­ta­tion strate­gies for pilot farms. What are the common prin­ci­ples regarding drought preven­tion?

The key issue is risk distri­b­u­tion. Given that the summer is getting hotter and drier, cultivation should become diver­si­fied: More diverse crop rota­tion with more main crops. The soil is also crucial due to its “sponge func­tion”: In rainy phases it should be absorbing as much water as possible, and in dry phases holding the largest possible reserves for the plants.

Given that the summer is getting hotter and drier, cultivation should become diver­si­fied.

This is achieved, for example, by increasing organic matter and humus content. Year-round soil coverage as well as catch crops and under­sown crops certainly help as well. However, you cannot gener­alise which measures will lead to the desired results, it is part of the indi­vidual strategy of each farm.

What does climate adap­ta­tion look like in irri­gated farming?

The compe­ti­tion between agri­cul­tural water use and use for other needs, right up to ecolog­ical issues, is increasing. In future the whole society needs to reach a consensus on ground­water use, which limits farmers’ room for manoeuvre. In arable farming regions, rain­water storage in inter­op­er­a­tional water basins will certainly become a strategic issue. One thing is certain, however: Systems must be made more water effi­cient, for example by growing more drought resis­tant vari­eties and crops even if they do not produce the highest yield.

Does that mean accepting a decline in yields in favour of climate resilience?

Whether a crop is irri­gated or not the industry often talks about maximum annual yield, but this is always asso­ci­ated with a high risk. It is a good adap­ta­tion strategy for us not to always use the highest yielding variety for the entire acreage, but to sow perhaps a quarter, for example, with a heat-tolerant variety.

The industry often talks about maximum annual yield, but this is always asso­ci­ated with a high risk.

This brings us back to risk diver­si­fi­ca­tion. It would be more sustain­able – instead of comparing annual yields between colleagues – to ask your­self: Who has achieved the best overall yield from the field across a 10-year period?

How can farmers use the tools devel­oped as part of Agri­Adapt?

A multi­lin­gual web tool was published on the project’s website in February. Various modules can be found there, including elements from the climate change check. They give farmers an idea of how, for example, water avail­ability in their region may change over the next 30 years. Numerous sustain­able adap­ta­tion measures are presented in this context. 

More infor­ma­tion :