Let’s Adapt to Climate Change — Adaptation Series Post 2: Technology-based Adaptation (TbA)

Examples of TbA application – Artificial Intelligence

Technology has the potential to help us adapt to climate change and Technology-based adaptation (TbA) strategies can support the Niagara’s agricultural sector. But what is TbA? TbA aims to maintain the resilience of various crop systems by using both traditionally available and innovative technologies. The following TbA strategies have been found most relevant to Niagara’s agricultural sector.

Community-based weather monitoring systems provide local farmers with early forecasts and warnings of changing weather conditions so they can be better prepared to cope with weather uncertainties (e.g. in Niagara, Vine Alert is used to alert grape growers of impending frost or extreme low winter temperatures so they can turn on their wind machines and protect their crop). These systems have become popular because of their affordability and low capital and operational costs. Weather monitoring systems can be the first point of reference for farmers to accordingly shift their sowing and harvesting periods following changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. Considering Niagara’s geography and topography, decentralized community-based weather monitoring systems can be effective for improving adaptive responses.

Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) is another very promising TbA that involves the balanced application of both natural amendments (manure, compostable wastes) and man-made fertilizers (mineral/synthetic fertilizers) to maintain healthy soils. INM can be successfully applied at both large and small-scale farms and leads to higher yields, better resistance against plant diseases, pests and droughts, especially if organic matter is added.

Examples of TbA application – Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation allows for a controlled delivery of water to the root zone of plants through a system of pipes, valves, tubing and emitters. In the Niagara Region (especially in light of increasing droughts), this system has expanded, mainly in vineyards and in greenhouses.  It offers one of the most efficient water use mechanisms for agriculture with minimal waste. This may lead to increased yield and a reduction in plant diseases.  The best part is that drip irrigation can be used for the growth of both greenhouse and field crops — fruits and vegetables, in particular. Careful monitoring is required as it leads to algal growth and the build-up of sediments in pipes, which caused reduced efficiency and increases the chances of contamination. The capital cost of installation can also be prohibitive. But, with advances in research on the technology, its affordability is improving.

Rainwater harvesting is also a very well-established TbA to reduce water shortage during droughts. Rainwater harvesting refers to the collection and transfer of rainwater from a roof to a storage tank (rain barrel or even a retention pond) for future utilization. In Ontario, retention ponds have been used for more than a century to reduce flooding and, around farmlands, to increase water availability for irrigation. One of the other positives about rainwater harvesting is that it is suitable for both greenhouse use and for field growers. On the other hand, rainwater harvesting systems have high initial capital costs and may also result in algal blooms if proper maintenance is not regularly undertaken.

The newest TbA tactics involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tactics to automate irrigation systems and make them more efficient. The application of AI makes irrigation systems very precise as the sensors collect real-time data on various parameters, like soil moisture, climate and lux (light) conditions on the farm and then release the required amount of water to the crops. Drones can also be used to precisely map the areas where irrigation or nutrients are most needed (also referred to as precision agriculture). Drones can assist with monitoring for pest outbreaks or localized flooding in some parts of the fields. With advanced sensors and research in the domain of software integration, drones are becoming increasingly popular in agriculture. AI systems offer several advantages for both greenhouse and outside growers. On the other hand, AI systems acquisition and maintenance can be expensive, and those systems require the use of highly skilled labour to operate.

Conservation tillage can also be considered a TbA. It comprises a variety of soil preparation practices where new crops are planted on previous crop residues that have been purposely left behind on the field (about 1/3 of crop residue). Conservation tillage practices are popular because they minimize the energy required in land preparation for agriculture while improving the retention of water and organic matter that further enhances productivity. Therefore, it has been extensively applied in the growing of fruits, vegetables and grain, as well as in vineyards. Conservation tillage measures also improve an agricultural system’s coping capacity to drought and uneven rainfall by minimizing soil erosion and fuel and labour requirements. The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has suggested conservation tillage as one of the Best Management Practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality in the Niagara Region.

To sum up, an integration of traditional and innovative technologies can be promosing for the Niagara region and, when combined with any other approaches, can help enhance the resilience of our agricultural sector.

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier and Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca


Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog