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"To take on responsibility in times of crisis" A thought from the field

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

As part of the experiments on medieval agriculture and the `A Year On The Field" project, also food is produced at the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory (Germany), including various types of grain and flax. So far, artificial irrigation has always been avoided in order to be able to adequately study the effects of weather extremes on the reconstructed medieval fields and landforms. This has already provided interesting insights into the risk minimization strategies of medieval farmers, which may also be of interest for our agriculture today.

Wheatfield at the Lauresham Open-Air Lab. as part of the "Year On The Field" Project

However, this approach is currently being questioned: On one hand, due to a persistent, extreme weather situation in May, only about 5% of the otherwise usual rainfall for this region has happened so far - and this in combination with extremely high temperatures of sometimes above 30°C (86°F). This potentially leads to considerable damage in the important growth and ripening phase of our winter cereals and the summer cereals as well as flax have a hard time developing sufficiently at all. This is mainly due to the fact that, unlike the winter crop, the roots of the latter do not yet reach too deep into the soil. Our soil measurements have shown that on the ridges of our "ridge and furrow system" there is currently no soil moisture at all as far as 30cm (11 inches) down in the soil.

Soil sensors collect datasets in regards of soil moisture and temperature on the experimental Ridge and Furrow Fields. In this graph, the two top lines indicate that within the period of May 17th and May 24th, the soil moisture in the layers 1 (10cm) and 2 (30cm) decreased down to 0%

Severe heat stress on the ridges of the experimental fields. In the picture: flax

Only in the deeper layers and furrows are there still important water reserves for the plants. Without a prompt, renewed supply of water, our cereals are therefore threatened with considerable crop failures or even total losses. In previous drought years, this situation occurred much later, but never as early as May.

Noticeable drought cracks in the soil of the wheat crop

Added to this is the unfolding world food crisis, which is worsening almost daily as a result of the Ukraine war, which makes it even more difficult to accept these losses - however small the yields may actually be.

In consideration of these two factors, the team of the Open-Air Laboratory decided to carry out an artificial irrigation of the arable land on site for the first time. The decision was also easier because the current climatic conditions (with over 30°C on the so-called "Ice Saints") no longer seem comparable to medieval conditions anyway. The irrigation that has now begun (10mm in a first pass) is also only a first step to begin to compensate for the lack of water reserves in the soil.

First artificial irrigation of arable land in the Open-Air Laboratory

Accordingly, we would like to take on responsibility and make our small contribution towards coping with the current crises by securing the harvest in our experimental fields


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