A new era for farm water
For World Water Day, we are looking at three ways farmers are making the most of one of the world’s most precious resources.
Farmers have been artificially watering crops for thousands of years, but over the last 50 years new technology has allowed them to use water more effectively and sparingly.
Modern drip irrigators can clean themselves and deliver precise amounts of water to crops often containing nutrients to help those crops grow. Drip irrigation is not just helping farmers in developed countries, it is increasingly being used in developing nations too. In Africa, a programme supported by the Israeli Government called Tipa (Drop) installs a simple system consisting of a cement reservoir, a hand or solar operated pump and plastic pipes that use gravity to deliver water to where it is needed. In Senegal the programme has helped 700 farming families grow three crops a year securing food supplies for them and giving them an extra source of income.
Less than 95% of the world’s water is fresh and it is estimated that up to 30% of the world’s irrigated areas suffer from salinity or the presence of saltwater. Desalination plants across some of the driest parts of the world produce more than 15 million cubic meters of water a day or around 1% of the world’s freshwater needs. US scientists are testing a system of reverse and pressure-retarded osmosis to reduce the amount of energy needed to desalinate water by 30% and also dilute the brine by-product from the process more effectively.
Source: Humboldt State University and US Geological Survey
The definition of hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil using nutrient rich liquids. The concept has been around for nearly 400 years, but modern technology is making hydroponics more mainstream and commercial, particularly for salad crops. Plants sit on shelves in a liquid solution that delivers the right combination of water, oxygen and nutrients allowing for rapid and consistent growth. LED lighting is being developed to replicate the photosynthetic properties of the sun at all times of the day resulting in the production of more crops than a conventional system. The use of lighting and hydroponics means that crops do not have to be grown in glasshouses, opening up the possibilities of urban or vertical farms where crops are grown in urban buildings close to where they will be consumed.
Healthy plants and water management
“Water management is a vital skill for all farmers,” says Shaul Friedland, Chief Commercial Officer at Adama.
“Around the world farmers have to contend with drought and flood as they grow their crops. A healthy soil structure will drain and retain water when there is too much rain, but store that water for when crops need it in dry conditions.
“Healthy and strong crops use water more effectively and that is why a crop protection programme that stops weeds, pests and disease damaging the plant’s ability to use water is so important. A good root structure means that water can be transferred from the soil to plant, while healthy stems and leaves allow nutrients to spread through the plant and aid the vital process of photosynthesis.”