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Mastering Water. A Guide to Agricultural Water Management

Freshwater resources represent approximately 2.5 % of global water resources, with an even smaller percentage being readily accessible with current technology. While the amount of water has remained relatively constant over time, the distribution is naturally affected by geography, geology and climate (G. Eudoxie et al., 2020).

Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. Without it, crops cannot grow, quality yields are not obtained. At the same time, water is often polluted by agriculture. ‘Farms discharge large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter, drug residues, sediments and saline drainage into water bodies’ (J. Mateo-Sagasta et al., 2017).

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many agricultural areas around the world ‘have been subject to extensive and increasing water constraints.’ Severe droughts in Chile and the United States damaged production while reducing surface and groundwater reserves. The well-known impact of climate change will worsen the situation due to the unpredictability of storms, precipitations, and other meteorological changes.

In the research on Effective Use of Water in Crop Plants in Dryland Agriculture conducted by J. Rane et al. (2022), we define agricultural drought ‘in terms of soil moisture deficit relative to the needs of crops at particular growth and developmental stages.’ Hence, a lack of moisture (drought) means that less crops are produced. Should precipitations keep varying as it has been predicted, ‘the intensity and duration of extreme drought stress are likely to increase’ too.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that irrigated agriculture is still the main user of water worldwide. According to OECD, irrigation in agriculture accounts for 70% of water use and over 40% in many OECD countries. In most countries, farmers do not pay the full cost for the water use, and that seems to justify the high percentages related to agricultural irrigation. ‘Intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation depletes aquifers and can lead to negative environmental externalities, causing significant economic impact on the sector and beyond.’

What can be done, then, to wisely manage increasingly limited water resources? The following strategies can be effective:

1. Drip Irrigation Systems

Implementing drip irrigation systems is a game-changer for water efficiency. By delivering water directly to the plant roots, this method minimises wastage and ensures each drop counts. Drip systems also reduce the risk of diseases associated with traditional overhead irrigation.

2. Soil Moisture Monitoring

Employing advanced technologies like Farmer Charlie for soil moisture monitoring enables farmers to make data-driven decisions. By understanding what the soil moisture levels are at a precise moment, farmers can optimise irrigation schedules, preventing both overwatering and underwatering.

3. Rainwater Harvesting

Capitalising on natural resources, rainwater harvesting provides an eco-friendly solution to water scarcity. Collecting rainwater in reservoirs or tanks during the wet season ensures a supplementary water source during dry periods, reducing dependency on conventional water supplies.

4. Cover Cropping

Cover crops act as a natural shield against water evaporation. Planting cover crops during non-growing seasons helps retain soil moisture, minimises erosion, and enhances the overall water-holding capacity of the soil.

5. Smart Crop Selection

Choosing crops that are well suited to the local climate and require less water is another strategic approach. Drought-resistant or low-water crops can significantly contribute to water conservation efforts while maintaining agricultural productivity.

6. Precision Farming Practices

Leveraging precision agriculture technologies such as GPS-guided tractors and sensor-based irrigation allows farmers to apply resources precisely where and when they are needed. This not only optimises water usage but also improves overall resource efficiency. Through its embedded sensors, Farmer Charlie collects soil and environmental data that are processed and sent to a phone or tablet app, making it an excellent tool for efficient resource management and cost reduction.

7. Educational Initiatives

Providing farmers with access to information and training on water-efficient practices is essential. Government agencies, NGOs, and agricultural extension services play a pivotal role in disseminating knowledge about modern water management techniques. Platforms like Farmer Charlie give farmers valuable access to global information and an opportunity to apply the right farming practices based on their local field data.

Mastering water for farming is not only a matter of necessity to deal with water scarcity but also a pathway to sustainable and resilient agriculture. By implementing efficient irrigation systems with the help of innovative technology and embracing practices that maximise water retention, farmers can achieve productive harvests while preserving this precious resource.

Farmer Charlie team is here to help you improve your farm management, apply the best farming practices and integrate technology solutions. Don’t wait any longer and send us a message. The future starts now!

- Marina Novokhatska

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