Comparison of surface runoff, nutrient and material mobilization and erosion through heavy precipitation of agricultural areas - Designing an innovative, long-term, high-resolution measurement field at the Bavarian Agricultural Institute in Lower Bavaria

Erosion happens in many fertile and agricultural intensively used regions world-wide. At the same time, scientists expect more frequent and intense erosive precipitation events and droughts with proceeding climate change [1, 12, 13, 15, 20]. In combination with increasing urgency to reduce nutrients and pesticides, a reconciliation of interests from food and energy production with those of environmental protection (e.g., soil and water) and sustainability is challenging.

Counter measures can significantly reduce surface runoff and erosion on slopy croplands. There is plenty of research on the efficiency of single measures, cultivation methods, or crops [e.g., 2, 4, 10, 14, 19]. However, we know little about combined effects of these factors and the influence of surface runoff on longer slope lengths [16]. Furthermore, changing climatic conditions and the necessary reduction of herbicides question well-accepted knowledge from the last decades. [2, 21].

The Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture (LfL) constructs and establishes an experimental sight in Ruhstorf (Lower Bavaria, Germany) called EARL (erosion and runoff laboratory) to analyze the physical, social, and economical factors driving the ongoing erosion, which is exceptional world-wide. During long-term measurement campaigns, measures reducing erosion and improving the landscape’s water retention are assessed in combination with crop rotation schemes and new cultivation methods (i.e., crop selection, nutrient, pesticide, and herbicide management, cultivation methods, robotics, and precision farming). Drawing on other research groups’ experiences in the UK [5, 7-9], Switzerland [17, 18], Austria, and others [3, 6, 10, 11], ecologically promising and practically approved cultivation methods are assessed on their risk of erosion and resilience against weather extremes under controlled circumstances using an area of almost 4 ha. Each of 14 combined strip experiments (about 100 m x 6 m) is complemented with a smaller twin including an overhead sprinkling system to generate additional insights independent of the weather or simulating future climate conditions. The monitoring is focused on a very high data point density in three spatial and one temporal dimensions (4D‑approach) and includes precise topographical, meteorological, soil, and agricultural data as well as digital sensor networks applying IoT techniques. The datasets will be analyzed with artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning (DL) approaches, as well as model-based to transfer the results to catchment scales.

The Chair of Hydrology and River Basin Management at TUM is a cooperation partner of this project. Together with the LfL, staff members design the concept of the measurements and plan and realize the installation on the plot. Supported by the TUM Institute of Measurement Systems and Sensor Technology, the plot will be fully operational from 2024 (after the initialization phase of three years) and deliver data for more than ten years. Besides, major objectives are establishing an international scientific network and collaborative projects on the one hand, and the transfer of the generated scientific knowledge to practical day-to-day work of farmers and authority staff by talks, workshops, conferences, and field trips.

Project website at ResearchGate

Homepage of the LfL in Ruhstorf

Funding: Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Forsten
Project partners: Bayerische Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft, Technische Universität München
Project start: 01.11.2021
Project end: 31.10.2024
Contact: Johannes Mitterer

Project website at the Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture


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[21] TOPPS-Prowadis (2014). Gute fachliche Praxis zur Verringerung der Gewässerbelastung mit Pflanzenschutzmitteln durch Run-off und Erosion. Handbuch, 81 S., Zugang: www.topps-life.org/key-documents.html [22.01.2020].