In a pilot project, SLU is collaborating with the Tunisian institutions INGC and INAT, which are working with applied agricultural and water resources research. The goal is to assess possibilities to use proximal and remote sensor techniques to augment the precision in nitrogen fertilization of durum wheat in Tunisia. This work may also increase our understanding of how drought and dry spells can affect cereals production in Sweden.
The production of durum wheat is important in Tunisia, with a total yield of around 1.8 million tonnes per year. The average yield in rainfed production which is dominating in the northern part of the country is very low (1.4 t/ha). The country aims to reach an annual domestic production of 3 million tonnes of cereals per year to achieve self‑sufficiency.
The new project “In-season nitrogen management for wheat in Tunisia using proximal and remote sensing” will test the possibility to develop satellite image-based models for nitrogen uptake in wheat in Tunisia, which can be used in decision support systems for optimizing nitrogen fertilization. Field trials are carried in irrigated and rainfed fields in different climatic zones of Tunisia, including sub-humid and arid areas.
Part of a larger project
A first visit was made in Tunisia by the Swedish team from the precision agriculture group in Skara, that is the researchers Omran Alshihabi, Mats Söderström and Kristin Person (Department of Soil and Environment), to formulate the working strategy in collaboration with The National Institute of Field Crops (INGC) and National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia (INAT).
The fieldwork will be carried out in three regions: Beja, Kairouan and Manouba. The collection of data will be done by INGC. The project is carried out in close collaboration with a far larger project that encompasses many countries in Africa (NUTCAT).
In June, the Tunisian team will visit Sweden too, and the Swedish-Tunisian team will jointly evaluate the data collected in the first season. The team will study the agricultural sector in Sweden, precision agriculture used in practice, and meet with various stakeholders.
What will this lead to?
Hopefully, this project is a first step for a wider collaboration to empower the agricultural sector in Africa and the Middle East region with precision agriculture techniques for improved food production. The use of proximal and remote sensing for nutrient management is challenging in areas with water shortage – this is something we need to learn how to handle. For Sweden, climate change scenarios suggest that drought or drought spells (such as in 2018) may become more frequent in parts of the country. Therefore, it is important to study and learn from experiences in cereal production in areas such as in Tunisia.