“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. 

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