Climate Change and Agricultural Water Use in the Bernese Seeland

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In the Bernese Seeland it is common practice to use groundwater for irrigation.

As climate change progresses, the conditions for crop production in Switzerland change. Rising temperatures and decreasing summer precipitation lead to increasing drought stress. Irrigation is an obvious strategy to reduce water deficits and increase yield stability.

In the Bernese Seeland for example, groundwater is easily accessible and the quality of groundwater is good. This makes it a preferred source of irrigation water abstractions. With climate change, however, the water required for irrigation would increase. The question is whether an adverse impact on groundwater resources and exacerbate conflicts could emerge (e.g. between the use of water for drinking and for agriculture).

As part of the AgriAdapt Project, Agroscope is working with the Universities of Bern and Neuchâtel to explore the potential impact of the combination of increased irrigation and climate change on groundwater resources in the Bernese Seeland. Model results suggest that with climate change, not only drought, but above all rising temperatures that will play a key role as yield-limiting factors. Consequently, adjustments in terms of the choice of varieties and crops will be inevitable in agriculture. Assuming that the growing period remains the same in future as at present, the irrigation requirement under a pessimistic emission scenario would increase on average by up to 40% by the end of the century.

According to model calculations produced by the University of Neuchâtel, agricultural intensification would contribute to major fluctuations in groundwater levels if the area irrigated by groundwater were expanded significantly. Such a development would contribute to the intensification of conflicts of between drinking-water use and nature conservation in the area.

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