Applied research on climate-proof arable farming

Dutch arable farmers are having to cope with droughts and flooding more and more often. So the Plants Sciences Group is going to work with the sector to research what it would take to make arable farming climate-proof.

The project ‘Climate Adaptation Open Cultivation’ aims to reduce arable harvest losses caused by extreme weather conditions. Over the next four years, the researchers will study issues around soil quality, cultivation measures, how to address soil compaction, and how to create smarter, better irrigation.

Extreme weather is increasing as a result of climate change. Water management is therefore a central theme for climate proofing arable farming. Together with the Northern Foundation for Arable Farming Trial Operations (SNPA), WUR is going to document the availability of water during the potato growing season.

Stress test

The project is also going to evaluate several different crops on different soils in various regions of the Netherlands using a stress test. This test was developed as part of a previous WUR project. The researchers will then study which adaptation measures the arable farmers could adopt.

One of the things the researchers will look at is soil quality. A lot of agricultural land suffers from soil compaction. Land that has been compacted by heavy tractors absorbs less water when it rains because its infiltration capacity is reduced. This can cause damage to the crops from water. Another effect is that less water is available during dry periods, because the crops’ capillary function and root depth are reduced by the compacted layer. The researchers are going to conduct tests with green fertilizers and drill holes in the soil to reduce the soil impaction.

Measuring moisture

In a sub-project, the researchers will zoom in specifically on the potato growing season, working with potato growers in the north of the Netherlands who have already adopted climate adaptation measures. Moisture will be measured in these farmers’ fields, and in those of a control group of farmers and fields without climate measures. The researchers will look at questions such as whether controlled-traffic farming (where tractors follow fixed tracks) and conservation tillage methods to reduce soil compaction leave soils less dry. Crop growth, weather and soil data are also measured at intervals throughout the growing season.

Arable farmers participating in the project will also be experimenting with irrigation approaches, comparing water from different sources (spring water, surface water, tap water and water with added minerals). The project also aims to establish how arable farmers in other countries deal with water and whether their methods could be used in the Netherlands.

The research project was initiated by the branch organization Arable Farming and the company Agrifirm. Other partners providing expertise alongside WUR are SPNA and the consultancy firm Delphy. The project has a budget of 1.4 million euros.

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