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Mongolian agronomist explores use of satellite imagery in ag context

Posted on March 6, 2024 by Taber Times

By Heather Cameron
Taber Times
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

During Farming Smarter’s recent Global Crop Production Conference, agronomist Badruun Chadraabal spoke about agriculture in Mongolia and the use of satellite imagery and indexes for better farming and earning practices. 

“It’s a project that we’ve been working on in the past two years, which utilizes satellite imagery in a platform to collect all governmental data relating to that sector,” said Chadraabal, who has a degree in agronomy from the University of Saskatchewan. “My thesis was on utilizing drone photos and GIS systems for mapping back grass for spraying during fall. What I wanted to find out was how we could save herbicides just by using precision agriculture spray just in the black rice.”

After he graduated, Chadraabal said, he worked in Canada before returning to Mongolia. This is his third planting season working as an agronomist at Arvin Khur LLC in the Selenge province where he also manages the day-to-day operations. 

“I currently farm around 5200 hectares,” Chadraabal said. “Our company was one of the first companies in Mongolia to have minimal tillage practices. Due to innovative practices, in 2019, we had the highest yield.” 

In terms of climate, Chadraabal said, it has warmed 2.36 degrees Celsius in the past 60 years and warm seasons have extended summer days, which has caused a lot of problems with farmers; it creates stress to their crops, for one. Mongolia, Chadraabal says, is not lucky enough to get rain during those days and it increases a lot of high risk for decreases to their yields, and gives high risk for a lot of heat stresses on crops. Chadraabal said that, even though the country’s total precipitation has increased by 3.3 per cent, it is mostly during the winter and early snowfall during the fall, specifically during harvest season and has caused a lot of problems.

“Extreme weather events have also doubled the last three years,” said Chadraabaal. “One of the neighbouring towns that my farm is located by had a lot of their vegetable farmers having their fields flooded over. And it’s pretty devastating for the individual household farmers; they lack crop insurance and other means of risk mitigation.”

Chadraabaal also commented on the total area of Mongolian land, and permafrost layers. 

“In 2016, we did another study in which we found out that only 30 percent of the total area of permafrost layers still exist, so most of the lower elevated areas have lost its permafrost layers of the soil.”

“Most of our southern water is encompassed by desert and with an increase of one more Celsius around 2015 caused a lot of our land mass to be severely lacking water,” said Chadraabaal. “In 2008, there was a census where they found around 600 streams were dried up, cut off, or drained. Water scarcity and water management are very important issues that we are facing in the future. Mongolia has a large land mass. It’s considered the 18th largest country in the world, but even though we have a large land mass, most of the lands are not farmable.”

Chadrabaal said that in Mongolia, only around 0.38 per cent of the total land mass is farmed.

“Starting from 1992, we had a transitional period from communism to democracy, so all the state-owned farms were privatized,” said Chadrabaal. “Due to this privatization and transition, there was a huge decrease of wheat production in Korea, which caused us to import a lot during the early 2000’s.”

In 2008, Chadraabaal said, the Mongolian government created an initiative and this movement incentivized farmers to farm more and some equipment was tax free. It also, Chadraabaal said, gave financial assistance for firms and companies and individuals to invest more in the agricultural sector. Due to this initiative, by 2021 Mongolia was able to beat its previous record, which was producing 500,000 tonnes of wheat in 1988. 

Chadraabaal then showed slides of what were the most planted crops in Mongolia: they included wheat, oil being canola or Oriental mustard, potatoes, carrots, fruits, and other vegetables. 

Another big aspect of Mongolian agricultural, Chadraabaal said, is meat. 

“Unlike America and Canada meats, most of our meat comes from nomadic herds that live in the countryside, we have around 300,000 herders,” Chadraabaal. “About 10 per cent of our population are considered to be herders.”

There has been an exponential increase in the number of livestock in Mongolia, Chadraabaal said, and most of the livestock are raised in the native grasslands. Due to the increase in livestock numbers, there has been a lot of stresses on the grasslands. Chadraabaal then showed a map of how these grasslands have degraded year-over-year.

“An ongoing study done by the Academy of Sciences determined that around six tons of soil eroded from one hectare of land equates to 0.37 per cent of the surface soil, and most of the organic matter in the soil is located in the upper rises of the soil,” said Chadraabaal. “These soil degradation practices have caused devastating environmental and soil degradations. This is a very significant study carried out by the plant agriculture science department. They classified a total area of around 580,000 hectares in farmland, and they gave it a classification of weak water and a severe degree of soil decalcification. Each of these classifications are classified by soil organic matter, nutrient soil structure, and cell entity pH, and soil texture as a cluster. We take into account all these soil properties, and they determine that around 60 per cent of current farmland is severely degraded. And while 35 per cent is moderate to degraded, around 4.5 per cent is weakly. Minimum tillage practices in Mongolia go a long way.”

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