Water is crucial for agricultural production and food security. It is the bedrock of ecosystems, including forests, lakes and wetlands, on which the food and nutritional security of present and future generations is hinged on.
However, due to climate change, many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed.
Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. More than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Interestingly, Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies.
In the light of this, it is therefore imperative that farmers globally practice and adhere strictly to water conservation methods to ensure food security globally.
There are many ways to conserve water in agriculture, Some of these methods include the following.
Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to a plant’s roots, reducing the evaporation that happens with spray watering systems. It is a method of delivering water slowly, at low pressure, at or near the root zone of the landscape materials.
This type of irrigation is often referred to as targeted or precise watering. This is because it allows the farmers to target the precise area that you want to irrigate.
Properly installed drip irrigation can save up to 80 percent more water than conventional irrigation, and can even contribute to increased crop yields.
To allow for watering only when it is necessary. Currently, there are technology available to adjust irrigation systems to respond according to precipitation and moisture in the soil.
Growing crops that are appropriate to the region’s climate is another way that farmers are getting more crop per drop. Crop species that are native to arid regions are naturally drought-tolerant, while other crop varieties have been selected over time for their low water needs.
Drought-tolerant plants have built-in features to minimize water loss and maximize water uptake. Plants may have reduced leaf areas and bear small leaves or needles as in the case of evergreens.
Some drought-tolerant plants with large leaves have deep indentations (sinuses) between lobes in the leaves to reduce their leaf area. Another sign of drought tolerance is leaves covered with a heavy accumulation of wax such as that seen on white fir (Abies concolor).
COMPOST AND MULCH
Compost, or decomposed organic matter used as fertilizer, has been found to improve soil structure, increasing its water holding capacity.
Mulch made from organic materials such as straw or wood chips will break down into compost, further increasing the soil’s ability to retain water.
Compost and mulch spongy and absorbent. A hundred pounds of average soil (a 1×10-foot row tilled six inches deep) with a pound of compost mixed in will hold an additional 33 pounds (4 gallons) of water.
Planted to protect soil that would otherwise go bare, cover crops reduce weeds, increase soil fertility and organic matter, and help prevent erosion and compaction. This allows water to more easily penetrate the soil and improves its water-holding capacity.
CAPTURING AND STORING WATER
Many farms rely on municipal water or wells (groundwater), while some have built their own ponds to capture and store rainfall for use throughout the year. Properly managed ponds can also create habitat for local wildlife.
Farmers can create ponds and wetlands that capture rain water throughout the year that can be used during the dry season. Such ponds and wetlands can also provide habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife.
Smart water management is not just about how water is delivered but also when, how often, and how much. To avoid under- or overwatering their crops, farmers carefully monitor the weather forecast, as well as soil and plant moisture, and adapt their irrigation schedule to the current conditions.
Dry farming refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season, usually in a region that receives 20” or more of annual rainfall. Dry farming tends to enhance flavors, but produces lower yields than irrigated crops.
Conservation tillage is a tillage system that conserves soil, water and energy resources through the reduction of tillage intensity and retention of crop residue. Conservation tillage involves the planting, growing and harvesting of crops with limited disturbance to the soil surface.
It uses uses specialized plows or other implements that partially till the soil but leave at least 30 percent of vegetative crop residue on the surface. Keeping crop residue on the surface traps water in the soil by providing shade. The shade reduces water evaporation.
In addition, residue acts as tiny dams slowing runoff and increasing the opportunity for water to soak into the soil. Another way infiltration increases is by the channels (macropores) created by earthworms and old plant roots. According to experts, continuous no-till can result in as much as two additional inches of water available to plants .