Big data is essential for farmers to adapt to climate variability

A new study from Michigan State University sheds light on how big data and digital technologies can help farmers better adapt to threats – present and future – of a changing climate.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, is the first to accurately quantify soil and landscape characteristics and spatial and temporal variations in yield in response to climate variability. He’s also the first to use big data to identify areas in individual fields where yield is unstable.

Between 2007 and 2016, the U.S. economy suffered an economic impact estimated at $ 536 million due to variations in yields from unstable farmland caused by climate variability in the Midwest. More than a quarter of the region’s corn and soybean crop is unstable. Returns fluctuate between outperformance and underperformance on an annual basis.

Bruno Basso, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the MSU Foundation, and his postdoctoral researcher, Rafael Martinez-Feria, set out to address the main pillars of the coordinated agricultural project of the National Food Institute and agriculture that Basso has been running since 2015.

“First, we wanted to know why – and where – crop yields varied from year to year in the US corn and soybean belt,” Basso said. “Next, we wanted to know if it was possible to use big data to develop and deploy climate-smart agriculture solutions to help farmers reduce costs, increase yields and limit impact. environmental. “

Basso and Martinez-Feria first examined the soil and found that on its own it could not sufficiently explain such drastic variations in yield.

“The same soil would have a low yield one year and a high yield the next year,” Basso said. “So what’s causing this temporal instability?” “

Using a huge amount of data obtained from satellites, research aircraft, drones and remote sensors, and farmers via advanced geospatial sensor suites found in many modern combines, Basso and Martinez -Feria have woven together big data and digital expertise.

What they found is that the interplay between topography, weather, and soil has an immense impact on how crop fields respond to extreme weather conditions in unstable areas. Variations in terrain, such as depressions, peaks and slopes, create localized areas where water collects or runs off. About two-thirds of the unstable areas are in these peaks and depressions, and the terrain controls the water stress on crops.

With comprehensive data and technology, the team quantified the percentage of every corn or soybean field in the Midwest that is prone to excess or under-water. Yields in poor water areas can be 23 to 33 percent lower than the field average for low rainfall seasons, but are comparable to the average in high humidity years. Areas prone to excess water experienced yields 26 to 33 percent below the field average during wet years.

Basso believes their work will help determine the future of climate-smart agricultural technologies.

The study was funded by USDA NIFA and AgBioResearch.

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Kenyan farmers turn to makeshift greenhouses amid climate variability


The 10m by 15m structure of the Murang’a farm in central Kenya is made of wood and polyethylene sheeting for the walls and roof.

The polyethylene material that wears out can cause you to be rejected from a distance, but that’s until you get close. Inside the makeshift greenhouse are dozens of thriving fruit seedlings.

Seedlings made up of grapes and apples, among others, are lush and healthy green, compared to others that are in the open field.

“I have over 500 seedlings here,” said farmer Peter Ng’ang’a, a specialist in seedling propagation, recently. “I switched to greenhouse cultivation three years ago to escape the bad weather that was killing my crops,” he added.

Since he didn’t have at least 150,000 shillings (US $ 1,500) to purchase a factory-made steel structure, he improvised the greenhouse using locally available materials.

“I bought some wooden poles, nails, wire ties and the polythene blanket, then I hired a carpenter to do the job,” said Ng’ang’a, who spent US $ 200 for the structure that protected its crops from climatic variability.

Ng’ang’a is one of dozens of small farmers in this East African country who have adopted makeshift structures to produce food and harvest agribusiness.

Inside structures made of shade nets or polyethylene sheets, farmers mainly cultivate horticultural crops like tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and peppers and fruits like strawberries, in addition to seedlings.

It is these farmers who are currently supplying the markets in this East African country, as most of the crops grown in the fields were destroyed by heavy rains last season.

“I made my own greenhouse last year from wooden poles and shade netting and planted tomatoes, which I harvested this month and sold a kilo for $ 1, double the price. normal, ”said Antony Musau, a farmer from Kitengela, south of Nairobi, adding that he made some $ 1,200 from his 8m by 15m greenhouse.

The past year has been one of the worst for Kenyan farmers as the weather was extremely irregular. The country experienced a very dry period between January and April followed by a short rainy season and a wave of extreme cold, according to the weather service.

These weather conditions inaugurated a long period of rains from October 2019 to January 2020 which washed away the crops.

With the erratic weather conditions, new pests and diseases have not only emerged, but crops have been affected by climatic challenges.

Those who grew crops in greenhouses, however, have been protected from climatic losses and are among those who sell produce like tomatoes, which have soared to an all-time high of $ 0.50 for three coins.

“Greenhouses protect crops from extreme weather conditions such as drought, heavy rains or cold, allowing plants to thrive. They are part of climate smart agriculture because a farm is irrigated and in an environment they can control, ”said Beatrice Macharia, agronomist at Growth Point, an agribusiness firm in County of. Kajiado.

According to her, crops like tomatoes grow well in greenhouses because they need cool, dry places.

“Inside the greenhouses, a farmer avoids diseases like downy mildew and mildew which are caused by rains and cold, hence he is assured of the harvest,” Macharia said.

She noted that most Kenyan farmers over the years have avoided structures due to their high costs, but climate change is pushing them to improvise to grow food. Final element

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