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Training on water and nitrogen management for crops in India

From 4 to 7 April 2017, four agricultural scientists from INRA’s Environment and Agronomy division trained 24 agricultural scientists in India on how to use the STICS modelling tool to better manage water and nitrogen use for crops. The focus was on how to apply necessary crop inputs without harming the environment or diverting water away from other uses.

Updated on 05/16/2017
Published on 04/18/2017

This programme, which is both a tool and training course to test out solutions, is part of the ANR ATCHA project. The project, coordinated by Laurent Ruiz (INRA Brittany-Normandy, UMR SAS) aims to support the adaptation of irrigated agriculture to climate change. Agriculture is increasingly reliant on irrigation via groundwater, and India is an extreme example of this practice. The “pumping revolution”, which began thirty years ago, has led to severe shortages in groundwater supplies with major impacts on ecosystems. Millions of small-scale farmers are engaged in the practice, using a range of techniques and strategies. Because climate change is expected to further deplete groundwater stores, it is critical to develop reliable methods to assess the sustainability of agricultural systems.

Assessing the agricultural and environmental consequences of management methods

The training on crop modelling is key to offering Indian agricultural scientists quantitative tools to evaluate the agricultural and environmental consequences of water and nitrogen management methods at both the plot and regional levels. During this programme, four agricultural scientists* from INRA’s Environment and Agronomy division trained 24 Indian agricultural scientists – engineers, teacher-researchers and doctoral candidates – on using the STICS crop model developed by INRA. This programme was carried out in coordination with the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (IISc), the Indo-French Cell for Water Sciences (CEFIRSE), and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore (UASB), who hosted the training at its facilities.

“Increasing agricultural production is a key priority of research programmes and we were surprised by the high levels of irrigation and fertilisers used in the agricultural trials conducted at experimental stations. The modelling exercises conducted by the participants with their own data suggest that these practices lead to high levels of nitrogen reserves in soil and losses of several hundred kilograms of nitrogen through leaching into groundwater every crop season. These results correspond to the high levels of nitrates (up to 400 mg NO3/l) observed in the groundwater at the CEFIRSE observatory (ORE BVT, Berambadi watershed),” say the INRA agricultural scientists, who are members of the STICS project.

The training was a great success and the partners expressed a willingness to perfect their understanding of the STICS model, which they saw as a relevant tool to analyse, illustrate and quantify options to better manager water and nitrogen for crops.

Adapting INRA’s STICS model to local conditions

For the INRA project team, the main challenge with regard to their Indian colleagues will be adapting the STICS model to local agricultural systems. Following the training, two UASB teams will carry out the calibration for finger millet (a major cereal food crop in southern India) with support from a second-year master’s student from ISTOM (David Astier) by using the extensive existing databases. The ATCHA project will allow for additional and specialised training courses, scientific exchanges and the implementation of complementary monitoring protocols for future experiments in calibrating and simulating scenarios that take into account a wide range of crops and farming practices.

* Julie Constantin (UMR AGIR, Toulouse), Dominique Ripoche (US AgroClim, Avignon), Nicolas Beaudoin (UR Agro-Impact, Laon), Patrick Bertuzzi (US AgroClim, Avignon).

ANR ATCHA project

Supporting the adaptation of irrigated agriculture to climate change

The ATCHA project is based on:

  1. A 15-year partnership through the Indo-French Cell for Water Sciences international associated laboratory (IFCWS, in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore).
  2. The BVET environmental research observatory (ORE BVET), which has built an extensive hydrogeochemical database for the experimental watershed of Berambadi.
  3. The preliminary version of an integrated model combining hydrology (AMBHAS), agronomy (STICS), economy and decision-making (Namaste), which was developed for Berambadi during a prior Indo-French project (IFCPAR AICHA, 2013-2016).

The ATCHA project is complementary to the Sujala III project, led by the Karnataka Watershed Development Department, for which the IFCWS helps coordinate hydrologic monitoring in 14 watersheds in the state of Karnataka.
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