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Last updated: 2022, June 12

 

Climate change and precision agriculture

 

 

Dr. Oleksii Orlov, PhD in Agriculture

 

Climate change has already affected every farmer on the Planet. The losses of farmers and food producers from drought and hurricanes are increasing every year.

And they have no choice but to introduce new technologies and innovations that can optimize production costs and reduce the negative impact on the ecosystem.

The death of a sunflower bud due to extreme drought (Ukraine, Odessa region, June 2019). Sunflower it is one from the most drought tolerant crop but if water absent absolutely even sunflower dies. Climate change has already affected every farmer on the planet. What role exact technologies will play in such conditions and what to do of farmers? - we will consider in this article (photo Dr. Oleksii Orlov)

 

 

Disappointing forecast

Agriculture is almost the biggest victim of climate change, but at the same time, agriculture is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases (it produces almost a quarter of their emissions). It is understood that climate change has occurred mainly due to the burning of oil, gas and coal. But agricultural production also significantly effect to the situation on the Planet. The main carbon dioxide absorbers are forest and soil. About 10 billion trees are cut down every year for using lands for agricultural needs, and soils, due to improper processing, not only stop absorbing CO2, but, on the contrary, produce greenhouse gases (due to the abuse of fertilizers).

The irresponsible attitude to natural resources has led to irreversible consequences. According to the FAO, from 1880 to 2012, the increase in air temperature on the planet reached 0.85 C.

But in some agricultural regions, for example in Ukraine, warming is even faster - at the end of 2017, the average annual temperature increased by 1.1 C! Such changes have a stronger effect to farmers. In many regions the number of days with high daytime air temperatures (above +30 C) has doubled. Such heat waves cause premature ripening of crops and reduce their productivity. Moreover, in Ukraine today the duration of active vegetation of plants has increased by an average of +10 days.

 

From field to desert or how fields turn into desert... Field near Semenivka, Chernihiv Region, Ukraine (photo Andriy Dudko). Using of forest lines, water keeping technologies, CTF, Strip Till and professional consulting from Agricultural Consulting Service will help farmers already now

 

 

At present time, there is a clear tendency to a decrease in the amount of precipitation in winter by 3-17%, as a result, the risks of freezing and death of crops from prolonged occurrence of ground ice crust and lack of moisture in the spring remain. And the number of spring, summer and autumn droughts until 2030, as experts warn, may increase by 20-50%. The weather signals this: at present there are dry winds atypical for them, and in the spring and autumn months, hail is observed in different parts of the country, which provokes damage of crops.

Already now it is possible to know that the climatic conditions of the Southern Barrens will be signs of dry subtropics. In this area, a significant decrease in the yield of canola and spring barley is possible.

But the maximum risk level for corn is: yield losses in the south regions can reach 20-30%, and in many regions it is already impossible to get a corn yield.

 

What will help adapt crop production to climate change?

  • Diversification of crop production taking into account modern agroclimatic zoning of territories

  • Business Consulting from Agricultural Consulting for Increased Efficiency

  • High-productivity drought tolerant varieties and hybrid crops

  • In wheat production in continental climate it is possible the using of facultative wheat varieties that give more time for sowing of wheat

  • Growing drought tolerant GMO crops

  • Growing more drought tolerant traditional crops

  • The expansion of sown areas for species and varieties of crops with a short growing season, which will allow to obtain two or three yields of each crop

  • Increasing the diversity of crops to strengthen the resistance of the agricultural ecosystem to external stresses

  • The risks of growing crops that require a lot of fresh water (e.g. rice)

  • Creation of effective irrigation systems (in particular, drip)

  • Using CTF, Strip-Till, SDI and innovations to increasing efficiency of business

  • Reconstruction and creation of new forest belts

  • The shift of the sowing dates of spring grain crops to earlier, winter crops to later dates will ensure the efficient use of moisture reserves in the soil by crops

  • Proper business planning

  • Creating a new business and expanding an existing only by base of technical audit of conditions and taking into account climate change

  • Improving the insurance system

 

Prognosis map of changes of yields of wheat for 2050 (CERES-wheat crop model based by HadGEM). It depends that level of using of water, fertilizers and other recourses will changed too (Source: International Food Policy Research Institute)

 

 

 

Horticulture and orchards, growing vegetables, berries and viticulture - what doing?

  • Be prepared to reduce the amount of fresh water available and droughts

  • Use rainwater harvesting

  • Creation of fresh water reserves

  • Desalination of sea water

  • Increased risks of frost, hurricanes, droughts and hail

  • Proper business planning

  • Creating a new business and expanding an existing only by base of technical audit of conditions and taking into account climate change

  • Drip irrigation, underground drip irrigation SDI

  • Use of green energy sources

  • Using innovations to increasing efficiency of business

  • Improving the insurance system

  • Business consulting from Agricultural Consulting for increasing efficiency

 

Not always climate change it is drought! Cherry orchard in snow (Uzbekistan, near Samarkand, 15 of April 2020). The climate becomes more unstable and often frost and snow come instead of heat. Often snow falls in winter and spring in those regions where it has never been, and in those regions where there must be a lot of snow, no snowy winters are observed. For example, the winter of 2019-2020 in Uzbekistan was snowy and colder than in Ukraine and in the spring there was frost and snow and heavy rains. And in Ukraine, during the winter, there was no snow and it was warmer, and in the spring there was a drought. Usually should be the other way around (photo source Dr. Oleksii Orlov)

 

 

Measures to adapt to climate change in livestock and poultry

  • Breeding in particular to improve heat tolerance

  • Possibility of breeding new bird species (eg guinea fowl) and more open systems for production for the northern regions

  • Use rainwater harvesting

  • Desalination of sea water

  • Use of new drought-resistant varieties of forage crops and creation of insurance stocks of forages and silage to prevent losses from drought

  • Increasing the area of ​​natural and artificial pastures, the use of sorghum and triticale in poultry

  • Optimization of the structure of hayfields and pastures to increase their resistance to extreme weather conditions, providing shading (natural or artificial)

  • Improving the system for monitoring of diseases, parasites and pests of animals

  • Equipment and construction of premises for animals, with the use of technologies and materials that protect against overheating and have increased resistance to natural disasters

  • Proper business planning

  • Creating a new business and expanding an existing only by base of technical audit of conditions and taking into account climate change

  • Creating an effective insurance system to minimize financial losses from adverse weather conditions

  • Using innovations to increasing efficiency of business

  • Business consulting from Agricultural Consulting for increasing efficiency

  • Others effective actions

 

More difficult poultry business at drought conditions and  new birds species (e.g. guinea fowl) and more open systems for production for the northern regions

 

 

 

Aquaculture and Climate Change

  • Increased role of aquaculture in global food production

  • Should be prepared to reduce the amount of available fresh water, droughts and reduce river flows, shallowing

  • Creating fresh water reserves

  • Increase in evaporation and salinity

  • Rising water temperature, in some cases the need for cooling

  • Increased risks of flooding, a sharp increase in water levels and flushing of dams

  • Improving the effectiveness of RAS and offshore aquaculture

  • Proper business planning

  • Use of GMO species

  • Creating a new business and expanding an existing only by base of technical audit of conditions and taking into account climate change

  • Using innovations to increasing efficiency of aquaculture

  • Use of aquaponics in freshwater aquaculture

  • Improving the insurance system

  • Business consulting from Agricultural Consulting for increasing efficiency

 

Using of RAS and sea offshore aquaculture give possibility improving the effectiveness of investments - fish and water products growing it is possible in any palace that present water

 

 

Greenhouse business and climate change

  • Increasing the role of the greenhouse business in world food production

  • Should be prepared to reduce the amount of fresh water available, droughts

  • Using rainwater harvesting

  • Increased hail risks

  • Desalination of sea water

  • Use of cooling

  • The use of safety nets, sun protection and solar panels to generate electricity

  • Indoor farming without sunlight and soil

  • Use of alternative energy sources

  • Proper business planning

  • Creating a new business business and expanding an existing only by base of technical audit of conditions and taking into account climate change

  • Using innovations to increasing efficiency of indoor and greenhouses business

  • Improved insurance system

  • Business consulting from Agricultural Consulting for increasing efficiency

 

Greenhouses with solar panels it is good decision for hot climate

 

 

What are the main directions of increasing of business competitiveness using new innovative technologies during climate change?

 

1. Management of equipment and agricultural machinery:

  • Lower fuel, energy and operational and financial costs

  • The best management of machinery and equipment and technological operations using innovations

  • A decrease in fuel consumption will mean that less carbon dioxide is produced, and this in turn affects the climate

  • Optimization of the application of nitrogen fertilizers will help not only increase the efficiency of the payback of financial resources invested in the purchase and use of fertilizers, but also reduce the amount of nitrous oxide released from the soil into the atmosphere

  • By identifying and correcting structural changes in the soil and increasing the humus content through the use of modern technologies (e.g. CTF and Strip-Till), crop yields can be optimized and resource utilization maximized

  • Precession technologies to reduce resource consumption and wastes production

  • Increased productivity can reduce greenhouse gas emissions per kg of grain, milk or meat produced

  • Precession technologies allows farmers to be better prepared for climate change, for example, through more efficient use of water or improving soil structure

 

Changing conditions in agricultural markets are also changing traditional approaches to agricultural crops production. For example, sugar beets are one of those crops where farmers spend huge amounts of money on the purchase of pesticides, because to get a high sugar yield, you need to use at least 5-7 sprayings with herbicides. But modern technologies does not stand still and a new direction in the production of sugar beets and organic farming is the use of mechanical destruction of weeds using robots (Robotti), which allows you to completely abandon the use of herbicides and save a lot of money

 

2. Management of variations and field agronomy:

  • Mapping the soil at fields. In most fields, there are differences in the type and structure of soil, in quantitative indicators of the content of plant nutrients, water and the availability of nutrients. There is equipment and software to compare these changes and sow seeds or apply fertilizers accordingly. These technologies are more aimed at reducing the cost of resources and significantly enough reduce the amount of resources and finances used to produce a unit of production

  • Yield mapping shows the change in yield within the field and can be used to study low-yield areas and to change fertilizer application rates in proportion to the nutrient intake of crops

  • Sensory measurement of plant density and level of biomass development - assesses the biological properties and the total biological mass of the crop. On wheat, this can be used to change the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied when the fertilizer spreader is moving

 

3. Other examples of the use of modern technologies:

  • Decision support systems, for example, systems for recording the effectiveness and financial value of various technological operations, for example, different spraying dates or different doses of pesticides

 

4. For livestock and poultry

  • The use of biometric sensors for online monitoring of the state of animals and birds is very important for increasing the productivity of the agricultural business

  • Modern diagnostic methods, for example, CT can increase the accuracy of assessing the composition and muscle mass of farm animals during their breeding

  • Automatic feeding systems can provide feed rations with exactly the right amount of ingredients and create any mixes for a specific animal population

  • Automatic monitoring of diseases, for example, the number of helminth eggs, allows you to decide whether to use anthelmintics for stable control of parasites in sheep and allows you to prevent epidemics and mass death, and makes it possible to localize the burning of diseases at the very beginning

  • It also allows to obtain higher quality livestock products (for example, automatic control of somatic cells in milk, with switching of flows of "healthy" and "dirty" milk)

 

The New Bolton Department of the University of Pennsylvania is veterinary clinic to use a robotic computed tomography scanner for diagnosis ( Courtesy, Steven Minicola, University of Pennsylvania)

 

5. For horticulture and fruits and berries production:

  • Scanning and image processing and tracking technology have been successfully applied to soil tillage equipment to improve mechanical control of weeds between rows in orchards

  • Decision support systems and modern sensors can help predict outbreaks of pests and diseases, predict the maturity or make recommendations on the use of irrigation water and fertilizers

 

6. For indoor and greenhouses:

  • Fully automated computer-controlled greenhouses so that you can precisely control the air environment and other resources

  • More efficient production systems through better utilization of resources. Cost savings through optimization and more accurate application of fertilizers for fertigation and other resources

  • Improving the condition of substrates and soil due to controlled movement and reducing the number of technological operations

 

7. For irrigation:

  • A drier climate requires more water to produce of food, and the price of water increases, so using automated irrigation systems will be justified

  • The importance of systems for the better use of water and fertilizers for fertigation (for example, SDI) is increasing, and their combination with modern soil cultivation technologies (CTF) and methods of remote diagnostics (drones, ground and air sensors for moisture and biomass development)

 

Are there any risks?

  • Investments in equipment and machinery may not give a significant returns, in the case of absence of modern software and control systems

  • A slight deviation may be present in the fields even when using modern technology, or the deviation will not have a significant effect on yield

  • Operations can be performed with very good accuracy, but financial gains and improvements may be small due to ignorance of the management features of such technologies

  • Inadequate training or misunderstanding may mean that modern technology is not being used effectively. When using precision farming, it is important to understand how the measurement is made and which is the degree of accuracy. For example, spot or strip treatment against pests, weeds or diseases may not be effective if errors were made during the analysis of the samples and during the diagnosis or the pest was not correctly determined

  • Agronomic errors - if the sequence of operations is broken, or something is done at the wrong time, then even using the latest and modern technologies, one may not succeed

  • Estimating costs and benefits is crucial and, and in the absence of accurate numbers, this can be intuitive

  • Exact technology does not interfere with the farmer's experience, but only contribute to the simplification of his work

  • In all cases need good management and agronomy support and control

 

How to improve business profitability during climate change?

More targeted use, especially of fertilizers and agrochemicals, means that nutrients are used optimally, this can lead not only to lower costs for fertilizers and agrochemicals, but also to a decrease in nitrate content in food and emissions of oxides into the atmosphere.

Automatic data loading in an easily manageable format reduces the time spent on processing and recording information, and ultimately will allow you to make more effective financial and managerial decisions.

 

Thus, the use of precision agriculture and innovative technologies does not remove risks, but significantly reduces their likelihood, and in a changing climate it is crucial to increase the competitiveness and profitability of the agricultural business!

 

 

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