Despite having an English-sounding name, Jennie Barron, SLU’s new professor of agricultural water management, is from Skåne.
Agricultural water management is a matter of survival for humankind, who depend on the equation water + soil + nutrients + crops = food adding up. Barron agrees that this is an exciting time to become a professor of this subject.
"Research contributes new ideas and knowledge, which leads to new solutions and investments. This raises productivity in certain cultivated areas while at the same time preserving environmental values in a landscape in a sustainable way," says Barron.
Climate change on the agenda
She studies the effects of climate change in Sweden, in combination with her international research in various African and Asian countries.
Barron says that a lot is suggesting that it will rain more intensely in the future.
"Climate change poses a great risk because we do not know how it will develop in the future. That is why we have to test various future scenarios. We have to learn how to manage increased weather variation, including years of extreme drought and rain, respectively. In order for agriculture to maintain or increase profitability, we have to start thinking outside the box. This in turn may require investments, not just in individual farmers, but in society as a whole."
Barron also highlights that we have to ensure that domestic food production remains profitable and sustainable. These days, we are too dependent on imports and therefore vulnerable to how food production is managed in other parts of the world, for example in regard to water management.
New solutions are needed
All in all, this requires new solutions for handling the (vital) water in landscapes and spaces based on production and environmental requirements.
"Rain is changing globally, which affects water access over time and space. It requires increased farming system precision to make maximum use of the water available. We do not want to increase acreages or use more water globally, but we must also produce more nutritious food, which requires more water," states Barron.
Increased food production may also involve using more fertilisers and plant protection products, which puts aquatic systems at risk.
"We don't just need new knowledge, but also people who understand all of this, have new ideas and the innovation skills to prepare us for the challenges of the future. It is very crucial to educate students and organisations about this. We need to find new solutions for intensifying food production without harming or using water from lakes, watercourses or groundwater."
Text: Mikael Jansson