What do farmers in rural Brandenburg and producers in northern Namibia have in common? One answer might be "A lot of sand in their soil". Which is true. The answer "Not a lot of water" would also be correct. However, what is true for globally networked agriculture as a whole particularly applies to both of these cases: while the challenges may bear some similarity, they can only be overcome locally. (A lack of) water is a prime example of this.
Climate change is a reality
It is presumably the oldest dream in agriculture: "controlling the weather" - determining when the sun will shine or it will rain. And let's not forget the wind either. However, professional farmers around the globe are not given to daydreaming. Agriculture is known to take place in the open air, and the producers are realists. This reality includes the fact that a shortage of water is a problem which needs to be taken seriously. Not only in the arid areas of global arable farming but also increasingly in regions that have so far managed to cope well with their water. Climate change is having an impact.
Recognising and exploiting resources
Traditionally dry regions are experienced in dealing with this shortage. In places where water is sometimes in short supply and then available in abundance again, farmers are working towards resolving this issue: irrigation, supplying water from above (spray irrigation) or from below (subsurface irrigation). In spray irrigation, water is sprayed over the crops. This technique is more flexible, but the water is able to evaporate faster. Subsurface irrigation is more involved because the water has to be conducted directly into the soil using hoses; as a result, however, it reaches the plant roots directly and losses are minimised. Irrigation means getting the water directly to the plant, and occasionally involves systems spread out over wide areas. The definitions of, or rather the transitions between, the procedures are fluid in practice.
If crops are to be supplied with (additional) water, whether this water can and may be used must first be clarified. Although this sounds trivial, it is anything but. At the recent DLG irrigation conference, for instance, Jürgen Kleber of Geisenheim University reported on the "upgrading of waste water pond systems in northern Namibia to increase the availability of water for forage crops". In dry regions, irrigation establishes the bases for humans and livestock. A similar question is being posed in Germany, as Veikko Junghans explained during the specialist conference. As a scientist at Berlin's Humboldt University, he is dedicated to determining "which resources can be used for field irrigation in Germany". (Information about the DLG irrigation conference). According to Junghans, "sufficient water is still available in many regions, but tense situations nevertheless exist at present" in Germany, e.g. in Brandenburg. As alternatives to classic resources, Junghans believes that purified waste water from municipal sewage treatment plants is of "very limited suitability". Process water from the food industry is of "low suitability", while residual water from biogas plants is at least "conditionally suitable". Junghans only considers surface water and bank filtrate to be "very suitable". The "source" is crucial.
Specific solution rather than patent recipe
The examples make it clear that "rain makers" are needed at the various agricultural locations. At the same time, it becomes clear that there are no patent recipes for irrigation - each solution must be adapted to the respective situation. The lead topic of AGRITECHNICA 2019 picks up on this central aspect with the motto "Global Farming - Local Responsibility". Perhaps more than any other "production factor", water, and therefore also irrigation, stands for the local responsibility of an internationally networked agricultural industry.
As a scarce and therefore valuable commodity, water must be used with the maximum possible efficiency. Naturally, digitalisation makes an important contribution to achieving this, since it enables water to be transported precisely, i.e. effectively dosed, at the right time to the location in which it is needed in the crops. Ideally, this encompasses networking with the entire farm management system. This also includes the correct management of soil to enable it to be used as a water store for the crops.
From November 10th to 16th 2019 in Hanover, the latest technology, including irrigation technology, and the know-how for using it, will be on display at AGRITECHNICA, the world's leading trade fair for agricultural machinery.
- Irrigation is becoming increasingly important around the globe
- Digitalisation is optimising the respective methods
- Water as a prime example of the lead topic of AGRITECHNICA "Global Farming - Local Responsibility"
- Tense situation in parts of Germany
- Water resources with differing degrees of suitability