There are three necessities in agriculture that farmers can’t live without: equipment, soil, and water.
For the most part, the first two can be reliable once acquired. Sure, equipment such as tractors and cultivators may require occasional maintenance, but farmers can easily avert this with regular checks. Observing the proper operation of any farming machinery will also maximize their uptime and ROI.
Water scarcity, however, is something farmers can’t control. Instead, it’s affected mostly by demographic growth, climate change, and economic developments in various sectors such as:
- Food Processing
- Industrial Production
Agriculture, of course, is a major consumer of ground and surface water across the globe. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of the consumptive water usage in the United States.
As a result, farmers are the most hard-pressed to adopt smarter, more efficient water management techniques and technologies.
Below are seven simple yet effective ways that you as a farmer can strive through water scarcity.
1. Practice Rotational Grazing
Livestock grazing is a commonly overlooked factor when it comes to water management. Keep in mind that grazing increases soil density and reduces water absorption. This, in turn, leads to water runoff and makes pastures more vulnerable to drought.
Controlled, rotational grazing is a simple practice that can prevent excessive pasture trampling. It typically involves moving livestock between paddocks on set intervals — be it weekly, monthly, or every other day.
2. Use Mulch and Compost
Using compost and mulch is a great way to fertilize the soil and improve its ability to retain moisture. Compost is the product of organic matter decomposition. It can be obtained through the process of composting or by purchasing from feedstock sources.
Mulch, on the other hand, refers to a protective layer of materials over the soil surface. Apart from conserving moisture, mulching also insulates the soil and protects it from erosion.
Natural mulch may consist of leaves, straw, and wood chips. It’s worth noting that certain compost can be used as mulch.
3. Build Ponds
In addition to conditioning soil for water absorption, farmers can also capitalize on rainfall by building ponds. Depending on their scale, ponds can serve as either the primary or emergency water source for an entire farm. They also help recharge nearby groundwater sources as well as attract wildlife.
4. Control Phreatophytes
Allowing non-beneficial vegetation to thrive within farmlands is acceptable, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of crops. Phreatophytes, in particular, are deep-rooted plants that consume a considerable amount of groundwater through evapotranspiration. Some typical examples of phreatophytes are willow, cottonwood, mulberry, and ash trees.
When left unchecked, phreatophytes can significantly affect the availability of water and nutrients to nearby crops. They may also impact underground piping systems, overhead wires, and other adjacent human-made structures.
5. LEPA Irrigation
Low Energy Precision Application or LEPA irrigation not only saves water, but it also consumes less power than traditional spray units. It works by accurately spraying water into individual crop furrows via nozzles that are at ground level.
LEPA systems also minimize water loss through evaporation, which was a protruding issue with high-powered spray irrigation systems. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, LEPA irrigation utilizes over 90 percent of the water pumped. This is much higher than the 30-60 percent water efficiency ratings of traditional systems.
6. Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is another alternative irrigation system that emits water at a much higher efficiency. It is considered a “micro-irrigation” system due to the small amounts of water being fed straight to a plant’s roots.
In a nutshell, drip irrigation units deliver water through spaced emitters on special drip tubes. Valves and pressure regulators control the water flow, while filters can be installed to prevent blockages.
Plenty of drip irrigation products today can also be integrated with timers. These allow the irrigation system to be switched on or off whenever needed — ensuring desirable crop conditions and maximum yields. a
7. Leverage Technology
As far as water conservation goes, implementing advanced irrigation systems is a step in the right direction. But if you want to take a step further, you need to embrace opportunities presented by technology.
For example, irrigation monitoring platforms make it easy to detect fixable inefficiencies, including irrigation and soil issues. They mostly cut through all the guesswork and provide recommendations based on data-driven insights. Irrigation scheduling can also be improved with software that collects weather data, like rainfall, humidity, and local temperature.
Believe it or not, some farmers still rely on municipal and groundwater reserves when it comes to their water. It may not mean the death knell of their business, but they’ll be more likely to struggle during the dry season.
You need to find and secure water sources to keep your crops and livestock in top condition all year round and sustain your livelihood. Hopefully, the strategies listed above will help you do just that.