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Climate change: new agriculture

2019-11-02T17:27:52.444Z

Climate change is changing Germany's fields and vineyards. The farmers can no longer rely on old rules. What now? A trip to farmers and the lab



Sometimes Johann Gerdes wonders if this was a good idea: a farm in Brandenburg about 50 kilometers from Berlin, consistently organically farmed. Last year, the potato harvest was a total failure due to the heat. Also this year it had not rained for weeks. When Gerdes tentatively pulled some potatoes out of the ground during the summer, they were as small as plums.

This was Johann Gerdes, 36 years old, glasses, three days beard, baseball cap, came here with big plans. He grew up in Oldenburg and did his master's degree at the University of Sustainable Development in Eberswalde. Three and a half years ago, he moved to Beerfelde with his young family to take over the operation of a former LPG, an agricultural production cooperative.

With 730 hectares, the Beerfelder Hof is huge compared to what you know in western Germany. Instead of four or five plant species, as in conventional agriculture, Gerdes and his associates grow 15 to 20 crops each year. Most yields bring him cereals, rye, wheat, spelled. But also on soy is the yard. Gerdes says, "this may work better under climate change conditions."

Johann Gerdes manages one of around 270,000 farms in Germany, and he feels every day in his fields up close, which is otherwise only statistics: The average temperature has risen in Germany since 1881 by 1.5 degrees Celsius. That sounds little, but it means a lot. The precipitation patterns change, sometimes there is more rain, especially frequent heavy rainfall, at the same time increases the likelihood of prolonged heat waves and drought. Many plants start to germinate earlier in the year due to the heat. Then comes a late frost in April: bad luck for the farmers.

Traveling across the country and talking with farmers about how they are preparing for climate change, people like Gerdes are trying hard to find new solutions. Or a Munsterland farmer testing a new plowing method. And on winegrower families, to which the drought years impose a lot of work.

The Kaiserstuhl near Freiburg im Breisgau is known for its gray and Pinot Noir. The winemaker family Eiche lives on the northwest corner of the volcanic mountains. In the fourth generation, they grow wine. As hot as here Germany is nowhere, so the Eiches feel changes much earlier than others. Stefan Eiche, who owns the estate, can list the special years from his head.

It was hot in 2000 and extremely hot in 2003. 2016 was initially very wet, but then good. In 2017 winegrowers, fruit and vegetable growers under the late frost suffered throughout Baden-Württemberg. In 2018 the drought came. This year the summer was so dry that on some days oak had to drive more than 60,000 liters of water from the valley up the hill to water young vines from the last year over hoses.

On a hill irrigation is less expensive, here oak has installed in the late nineties with other winemakers a solid irrigation system. It is supplied by pumps and temporary storage with groundwater from the Rhine level. The more frequent heat waves and droughts become, the more important it becomes for the winemakers at the Kaiserstuhl to irrigate artificially.

Source: zeit

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