Farming in America has evolved from a pastoral legacy to a technologically-driven industry, and while consumers can still enjoy the bounty of a weekend local farmer’s market, the demands of a global economy require mass production.
The mass production of food is a science, but no matter how much a process may be refined plants will always require water. Irrigation has been the primary use of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States since 1950, and at last measure amounted to 40% of water consumed in the country (2000).
One may think that these processes benefit from the most efficient engineering concepts available in the agricultural community, and many do, but there is no such thing as too many good ideas when it comes to water conservation for the small- or large-yield farmer.
1. Prevent Evaporation
Recent years have left many areas of the U.S. ravaged by drought. Many farmers familiar with these conditions have cultivated strategies to protect water that makes it into the ground from evaporating during dry days when hot wind wicks water vapor out of the soil.
Soil residues, whether occurring from the previous crop or applied after planting, can help slow evaporation that occurs from hot winds and heated soil. Some farmers are known to use a top layer of mulch to preserve moisture already trapped in the soil and prevent it from drying out in times of no rain.
A small secondary benefit to this is that it can help slow the buildup of toxic salts that are left over from evaporation that must eventually be leached and drained from the soil, which requires yet more water.
2. Prevent/Use Runoff
Runoff is the primary byproduct of irrigation and occurs when soil and roots do not absorb the amount of water being applied. This results in wasted water, fertilizer and energy, and contributes to land and water pollution.
This can be mitigated by knowing the best type of irrigation to use on a crop based on soil type, what is being grown, average rainfall, the slope of the land and other factors.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advocates the recycling of runoff for reuse whenever possible. If it is not possible, other ideas include better refining the irrigation schedule or selecting a type of irrigation (e.g. drip irrigation) that is less wasteful but will still meet crop needs.
3. Reduce Competition
Eliminating weeds is a matter of course for any farmer, but it is important to recognize the significance weeds play in robbing valued plants of water.
Professionals in agribusiness are likely greatly invested in understanding the importance of the precise chemical balances required to keep their crops healthy and weed-free; however, others may find it helpful to know what options are available.
Some companies offer barriers that are quite large and accommodate irrigation rigging.
These are just a few tips that can help any farmer save a little water and, perhaps more importantly, be a stepping stone for bigger and better ideas about water conservation.
This article was written by James Madeiros who writes for Seametrics, a manufacturer of water flow meters that help conserve water.