Wageningen University & Research: Climate-proof agriculture in the saline coastal delta of the Netherlands

Fresh water is scarce in the Dutch coastal area. Climate change and salinisation are putting freshwater availability under even more pressure. This is a problem for agriculture and horticulture in coastal areas, especially in dry summers. In the AGRICOAST project, a consortium of WUR, TU Delft, companies and social organisations aims to increase the availability of fresh water in the Dutch coastal area. The project has been awarded a grant of 1.5 million euros from NWO to appoint five PhD students.

The aim of AGRICOAST is to both increase the availability of fresh water and to promote its efficient use through a combination of technological innovations, water management innovations and innovative policy packages.

Field labs
The project nicely illustrates the complementarity of ‘green’ WUR and ‘blue’ TU Delft knowledge: in various Field Labs, for example on Texel and in the Lauwersmeer area, research will be conducted in cooperation with farmers and Acacia Water into how infiltrating rainwater can be better retained in the (agricultural) soil by means of level-controlled drainage. In addition, research is taking place into upscaling water storage in the deeper subsurface in aquifers. This will be combined with pre-treatment of the fresh but polluted drainage water to be infiltrated, to improve both water availability and quality.

In order to increase the efficiency of freshwater use, in the same Field lab researchers will look into underground irrigation of crops by means of the drainage system (sub-irrigation); into the smarter flushing of polders that are salinizing due to brackish groundwater seepage, using the fresh water from the IJsselmeer; and into combined salt and drought stress in crops (by WUR) so that irrigation is only applied when necessary.

“Using our expertise in experimental and model-based approaches to potato ecophysiology, we would like to contribute to the optimal use of available water, especially in areas where salinization is becoming an increasing problem”, says Paul Struik, professor in Crop Physiology at WUR.

Scale up pilots with a serious game
Field labs often operate outside the regular policy framework, limiting large-scale application and so stagnating the transition to an actual climate adaptive system. A PhD student led by Delft scientists Ellen Minkman, Wijnand Veeneman and Leon Hermans will research ways to scale up these pilots nonetheless, using a serious game. This serious game, which is being developed with the aid of TU Delft’s Game Lab, investigates how new administrative interventions can support water boards and other authorities in policy-making for climate-adaptive agriculture and horticulture.

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