Water and its responsible management in agriculture

Water is a key element in agricultural production and also in food security worldwide. Therefore, in today’s article you will learn how to manage water efficiently in agriculture.

What is the future of water management in agriculture?

Agriculture currently consumes 70% of the water extracted worldwide and the FAO estimates that in 2050 agriculture will have to produce almost 50% more food, fiber, and biofuels than in 2012 to meet global demand.

With this production model, this goal could be considered almost utopian:

  • The area devoted to irrigation should be increased to be more efficient, since now it produces 40% on 20% of the lands. 
  • Similarly, more efficient techniques and processes should be researched and implemented.

This is the only way to achieve competitive, profitable, and water-efficient agriculture.

Limitations on water use in Europe and their evolution

The different public entities are ensuring compliance with responsible water consumption. Thus, various regulations have been created in this area, which the agricultural sector must fulfill.

Since the year 2000, we have had a community legislation on water use, the so-called Water Directive (2000/60/EC). Here, the objectives to be met to stop the deterioration of water bodies in the European Union, as well as the key points on which to act to achieve it are detailed.

This is currently reflected in the European Green Deal and in “Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production” of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The aim is to do more and better with less: to increase resource and water efficiency.

How to improve the efficiency of water use in the agricultural sector?

This is why the agriculture sector, due to the large water footprint it leaves, must make a substantial contribution to sustainability. We will be able to achieve this through:

  • Modernization of irrigation: promoting the use of more efficient systems with very contained water demands, such as localized irrigation (dripping system), to the detriment of the gravity system. Fertigation is also worth mentioning.
  • Climate control: through the use of sensors it is possible to carry out an integral management of the crop, providing the necessary nutritional and environmental conditions for its vital process to take place in the most favorable conditions and thus obtain the maximum yield while minimizing water use.
  • Water storage and distribution in arid regions: the available water, if not immediately tapped or stored for later use, flows out of the area of interest and reaches the farmer. We can improve this by capturing it in areas close to the crop or by supplying it to these areas. This is the origin of systems such as seawater desalination.
  • Wastewater treatment: by means of systems capable of eliminating different types of water pollutants, it is possible to recycle and reuse this water. These mainly consist of physical, chemical and biological treatments.

In these aspects, the area of Almeria stands out.

Success story: Almería’s Agricultural Model

Almeria is the driest area in Europe. For this reason, it has historically been characterized by typical dry Mediterranean crops such as cereals, olives, grapes, and citrus fruits

But in 1963, what would later become the main economic engine of the province was built: a greenhouse. It was quickly adopted and today we know Almeria as the ‘Orchard of Europe’. 

Water is a very scarce resource in this area, and the efficiency of the greenhouses in its use has been key to its prosperity. Some of the key points mentioned above that have been applied in the Almeria’s fields have been: 

  • Creation of large desalination plants in the main agricultural areas, which contribute significantly to reducing the water deficit in the area and recovering the aquifers. 
  • Use of efficient irrigation systems. According to a study carried out by Cajamar, practically all farmers have localized irrigation (99.6%), by means of drip irrigation for crops grown in sandy soils or hydroponic crops in substrates hydroponic crops in substrates, which helps to achieve extraordinary water efficiency.
  • Advances in water recycling and reuse, such as those made at the El Toyo wastewater treatment plant (EDAR). This is capable of naturally producing water suitable for crop irrigation, bioplastics, and fertilizers, thanks to the help of the sun and the microalgae that grow and feed on the sludge itself.

If you liked this article on the efficient use of water in agriculture, don’t miss the module “Global Challenges and Solutions in the Agricultural Sector” of our Master in International Agribusiness Management.

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