Water Industry News

Agricultural Water Scarcity To Grow Under Climate Change

Water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges that the 21st century has to face, with global shortages now starting to emerge as a real threat, driven by population growth, water mismanagement, climate change, urbanisation and more extreme weather events like drought and flooding.


There are predicted to be more than ten billion people in the world by 2050 and experts expect to see demand for water outstrip supply by 40 per cent by then… something that will have a huge impact on agriculture and food production and security.


Agriculture is responsible for around 70 per cent of all global water withdrawals, so it will really feel the bite of any scarcity issues that arise in the near future. The knock-on effect of this will inevitably be food shortages for a growing population, as without water there would be no crops.


It’s also expected that agricultural water scarcity will increase in over 80 per cent of croplands around the world, according to a new study just published in the Earth’s Future journal.


A new index was developed by a team from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to measure and predict water scarcity in the sector’s two main sources: green water (soil water that comes from rain) and blue water (irrigation/abstraction from groundwater, lakes and rivers).


Why is green water so important?


While water scarcity is a challenge that affects every continent with agriculture, the majority of analytical models don’t consider both blue and green water simultaneously, WaterWorld reports.


Green water is the amount of rainwater in the soil for plants to use. Much of precipitation will end up as green water, but because this resource is found in the soil it can’t be extracted for use elsewhere – and, as such, it is often overlooked.


It’s expected that the amount of available green water will change in the future, in line with shifts in rainfall, changes in temperature and more intense farming practices.


It’s thought that around 16 per cent of global croplands will be affected by changes in available green water – so including it in how water scarcity is understood could affect how water management is conducted.


Xingai Liu, lead author of the study and associate professor at the Institute, was quoted by the news source as saying: “As the largest user of both blue and green water resources, agricultural production is faced with unprecedented challenges.


“This index enables an assessment of agricultural water scarcity in both rainfed and irrigated croplands in a consistent manner.”


Sustainable agricultural water use


Finding new techniques and practices for agricultural water management could help mitigate the risks of climate change and allow the industry to adapt to what the future holds,


Farmers and landowners around the world are now looking into their various options where sustainability is concerned, turning to the likes of drip irrigation, irrigation scheduling and water storage and capture, among others, to help conserve water resources.


Dry farming is another strategy that growing numbers are considering as a climate resilience strategy, where crops are produced within the constraints of their local environment. Irrigation is carried out once – or not at all.


Deep soil with good water-holding properties is used, while other practices include reducing planting density, planting drought-resistant cultivars and prioritising weed control, while improving soil health through crop rotation and cover cropping, and protecting the soil surface from cracking.


Smart water management


There’s also a lot of cutting-edge technology available to help farmers reduce their environmental footprint right across the board.


Agritech or smart agriculture makes use of IoT sensors to collect environmental data so that farmers can make better, more informed decisions regarding their farming practices, helping to address the water crisis and build resilience in the face of a changing climate.


However, it was suggested at the start of this year that one of the barriers to adoption of agricultural technology was a lack of knowledge among farmers, with 14 per cent of farmers saying they had plans in place to invest in agritech in 2022.


Commenting on the NFU Mutual study, farm insurance specialist Charlie Yorke explained that there is a real fear that expensive mistakes could be made if the wrong technology package was selected… and, indeed, 30 per cent of farmers surveyed said that lack of access to finance was what was holding them back from investing.


Mr Yorke said: “To make the right investment, farmers need to work closely with system suppliers, leading agricultural colleges, and other farmers to make sure they make the best decisions for their business.


“Holding back runs the risk of falling behind as global competition increases and UK farming support changes.”


Globally, the smart agriculture market is predicted to reach $15.3 million by 2025, according to Zion Market Research. Countries such as China, India, Brazil, Japan and Australia are driving demand for products like soil and water sensors, yield monitors, drones and GPS systems, among others.


Precision (or dry) farming also registered the highest market share of more than 49 per cent in 2016, attributed in large part to the uptick in techniques such as automated steering systems, high precision positioning systems and remote sensing.


Europe has the second largest market for smart agriculture after North America – and it is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 13.42 per cent.


Try a water audit


If you want to find out just how much water you’re consuming on site, a water audit could be a great first step to take towards reducing your reliance on mains water supplies.


If you’d like to find out more about how this could help conserve precious water resources and protect the environment, get in touch with the team here at SwitchWaterSupplier.com today.