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.