Recycling and reducing water use for agriculture

Recycling and reducing water use for agriculture“Water is to me, I confess, a phenomenon which continually awakens new feelings of wonder as often as I view it,” said British Scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), inventor of the early electric motor.

As water becomes an increasingly valued resource, farmers and innovators are finding new ways of recycling, re-using and reducing water use, and enjoying some additional added benefits.

Dramatic (and often conflicting) statistics claim significant water footprints for some of our major foods (240 gallons to produce a loaf of bread, 12 gallons for a bag of crisps and 3 gallons for a single tomato, for example), but these quoted figures are failing to keep pace with the big cuts to water use being made across the industry.

Smart control 

Drip irrigation, remote sensing linked to “smart” control of water supply, and a better understanding of how water moves through the soil profile and behaves around the plant root are all helping inform the way water use is managed by growers.

New breeding innovations are underway to reduce crop dependency on water and to help new varieties tolerate drier conditions. Catchment sensitive farming (come and find out more at the Innovation Hub at the Norfolk Show!) is becoming more widely adopted, and at the other end of the spectrum, controlled environment hydroponic and aeroponic production is reducing overall water demand for some high value salad and herb crops.

Natural approach

One of the reed beds at Produce WorldInnovations in water management can also deliver ecosystem services, with numerous examples, such as from the Norfolk Rivers Trust, and indeed the reed bed at Produce World, which we are visiting later this month.

But of course, sometimes there is too much water in the wrong place. The floods throughout the winter of 2015 showed the devastation caused to communities, crops and livestock.

Managing flood risk

New innovations to help monitor and manage flood risk are in great demand, and in 2013 DEFRA launched a procurement call under the Small Business Research Initiative for new innovations to help build resilience under climate change. Five projects were funded, ranging from predictive flood modelling to underground storage of water and sustainable drainage systems.

We are facing unprecedented change in our national and global political climate, but the impact of climate change – and the consequences for water management remain unchanged.

We hope that future funding calls and incentives will continue to encourage new innovations around water management – and may we always feel Faraday’s sense of wonder about this precious resource.