Adaptation occurs when we need to alter our systems to reposition them in relation to changing circumstances – climate change will certainly bring changing circumstances to which arable farmers will need to adapt to.
Rarely does this require a whole farm system change; however assessing current and future climatic changes for your farming area may identify opportunities to adjust the current system. Considering tactical, strategic and even transformational adaptations to our practices on farm may make farmers more resilient to climate change into the future.
Tactical options for addressing climate change within arable cropping are those management practices or technologies that will assist a farmer to do something practical that will make a difference on-farm in the shorter term.
Some of the options changing are:
utilising conservation agriculture,
improving soil water and irrigation management,
improving soil nutrient management,
improving pest management.
It is important to understand that not all changes will work for any one farm situation, and it is a matter of evaluating what will fit with the existing farm system and climatic experiences that are occurring or likely to occur for that area.
Changing crop calendars
Shifting temperature and rainfall patterns may call for farmers to reconsider their regular annual schedule that they have traditionally employed on farm.
reconsidering sowing times
aligning harvesting and crop maintenance practices with moisture availability
the advantages of optimal growing temperatures and pest population management.
In New Zealand, benefits also arise from assessing crop rotations instead of just single crops. e.g. while silage maize production is maximised by early spring sowing dates, the maximum productivity of a maize with winter cereal rotation can be obtained by later sowing dates, where the trade-off is the accumulated light interception of the entire system.
Changing crop varieties
Different varieties of the same crop species differ in their sowing dates, maturity times and pest and disease resilience. With changing climatic conditions an opportunity arises to consider varieties that are best suited to the changing environment.
Using of conservation agriculture
Practices such as reduced tillage of soil increases soil cover by leaving crop residuals in a paddock. This retains moisture, increases soil organic matter and N content.
Improving soil water and irrigation management
The option of changing crop calendars and crop varieties to better suit moisture availability will help utilise soil moisture more effectively. To aid this, rainfall capture and storage options may be viable for some farmers to ensure surety of supply. Irrigation also provides an option for those farmers with land classes suited to this technology, however, farmers must be mindful that water is a limited resource and NZ is already near to over allocation in some regions.
Improving soil nutrient management
Higher temperatures and increased CO2 will increase plant growth which in turn will also increase nutrient requirements of crops. More efficient applications of nitrogen, potash, lime and phosphorous in balance with plant demand and soil supply, the use of cover crops or the recycling of crop residues are options that farmers may use to manage nutrient requirements of crops.
Improving pest management
Integrated pest management (IPM) where biological, chemical and cultural controls are integrated into the crop management to control pests will be a useful tool for farmers going forward. Using these controls strategically, changing to more pest-resistant varieties, altering crop rotations to break pest lifecycles, shifting crop sowing or harvesting times, pest monitoring and adapting cultivation and crop residue techniques may all aid in pest management. Future early-warning tools that predict pest outbreaks with crop modelling tools may become a tool of the future.