How much water do we use? Roughly 40% of the world’s food comes from fully irrigated farmland and 69% of all freshwater withdrawal is used up by the agriculture industry. This amount is set to rise 19% by 2050 – that’s the equivalent of 3,500,000 Olympic swimming pools.
With global warming increasing evapotranspiration levels, feeding the world requires saving water and using less whenever possible. Fortunately, this can result in significant financial savings, depending on crop type, location and how water is collected.
Below are ten methods to reduce consumption on your farm while safeguarding the future of your livelihood, and the planet.
1. Start mulching
Mulching keeps soil moist, preventing the need to water frequently. Wood chips, pine needles and sawdust can all be used as mulch and reduce evaporation by blocking sunlight. As these substances break down, they also improve the soil’s ability to retain water. As an alternative, you can use black plastic sheeting instead of something like shredded leaves, though it won’t decompose in the same way.
2. Create and follow a watering schedule
When you give plants H2O is almost as important as how much you’re providing, so create a watering schedule to avoid giving them too much or too little moisture. Always check the weather report for rain, irrigate your crops at night when possible to stop evaporation, measure the temperature and water content of your soil, and adjust your schedule accordingly. If you need help, there are high-tech gadgets that can do much of the work for you.
3. Embrace organic farming
Many methods used in organic farming require less water and enhance the soil’s ability to retain moisture. In dry years, this can increase yields — one long-running experiment showed organic corn production was 30% higher during droughts when compared to non-organic methods. Run-off from organic farming can also be recycled and reused safely, as it’s free of harsh chemicals.
4. Cover the ground with crops
Reduce water evaporation by covering the soil with low-growing crops. In little time, the soil will become healthier, wind erosion will decrease, and water retention will improve. Using the right crops can add much-needed nutrients as well. For instance, clover will boost nitrogen levels, requiring you to use fewer chemicals while increasing future yields naturally.
5. Use drip irrigation
A properly installed drip irrigation system can result in an 80% decrease in water consumption when compared to a sprinkler system. By directly watering and fertilizing the base or subsurface of plants, evaporation is practically eliminated. Drip irrigation also denies weeds the water they need to grow between rows of crops, so you won’t have to rely on toxic herbicides.
6. Grow drought-resistant or tolerant crops
Consider growing crops that can handle droughts. For example, beans, olives, melons and tomatoes need less water than rice, soy and corn. However, you’ll need to make sure the plants you grow can thrive in your climate if you want to cut water usage and boost your yield.
If you’re really serious about using less H2O, consider dry farming and carefully choose plants that can survive off the water that’s already in your soil. Remember that this approach won’t work everywhere, but if done right, it can be an excellent way to approach farming in challenging places.
7. Practice crop rotation
Different plants use different amounts of water, and though they take nutrients from the soil, they also leave them behind for the next generation of seedlings. By rotating crops with varying needs, you can create healthier soil that’s capable of withstanding dry conditions and requires less hydration, leading to better yields. Something as simple as adding peas to fallow land can prevent erosion, infuse the soil with biomass and capture valuable water.
8. Check your pipes
Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best. Place water meters at critical points in your irrigation system to help track sudden spikes caused by leaks or breaks. Check the system on a regular basis to ensure water isn’t being wasted and repair any problems quickly. Some high-tech water meters don’t require any maintenance and come with batteries that last up to 15 years, making them incredibly easy to use.
9. Switch to conservation tillage
Conservation tillage has many benefits for soil, including higher water retention rates, less erosion, greater organic matter capture and a reduction in crop establishment time. Conventional tillage, on the other hand, strips away valuable topsoil, which can hit yields hard. By leaving at least 30% of crop residue behind, conservation tillage can end problems like degradation, compaction and a loss of soil stability and structure while letting water be absorbed into the ground.
10. Be smart about water storage
Find ways to store water instead of letting it escape. Tanks, ponds and rain barrels can trap rain, allowing you to hold onto a precious natural resource until you need it. Keeping water in ponds also helps maintain natural groundwater levels. A one-acre pond is enough to irrigate 18 acres of crops, so the payoff can be considerable.
Rainwater is also one of the best sources of hydration, as it doesn’t have salinity issues, isn’t contaminated by pesticides and waste like surface water, and doesn’t require testing before it’s used.
Make saving water a priority
Following these tips can save a lot of water (and money!) and help your farm get ready for the future. Thanks to improvements in technology and farmers adopting these kinds of practices, the intensity of crop production fell 31% in Eastern Europe between 2005 and 2016, showing it’s possible to make a considerable difference.
The right farming equipment can also help you operate more efficiently. Whether you need a reliable tractor, harvester, forager – or something else – you can find it on Tradus at a competitive price.