Water Conservation Tips for Small-Scale Fruit and Vegetable Farmers

To every farmer, water is a precious commodity. Agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals and 40% of freshwater withdrawals in the US. In the absence of water, it’s nigh impossible for plants to thrive, this necessitates the need for water conservation, especially in areas of low rainfall, or possible drought. Here are few water conservation tips for the small scale farmers and gardeners.

Add Compost to the Soil     

The addition of compost to the soil will aid the reduction of the plant’s water needs. This green fertilizer contains high amounts of microorganisms and organic matter. Studies have shown that when organic matter is increased by 5%, it can quadruple the soil’s capacity to retain water. You can work compost into the ground by using compost piles or bagged compost. Besides increasing water retention, composting adds nitrogen and improves soil fertility. Thus you can grow the highest quality produce.

Use Drip Irrigation

The direct application of water at the root zone of plants at slow speeds will eliminate water losses from surface runoff and evaporation and, at the same time, protect the topsoil. Research has shown that drip irrigation has a significantly higher efficiency than other techniques of watering plants. The technology is not complicated, and it’s easily adaptable for use with soluble fertilizers. Small-scale farmers can easily replicate drip irrigation on their farms.

Going Organic Will Conserve Water

A primary advantage of organic farming is that pesticides and other toxins do not get into streams and other water bodies. Natural farming methods also help to store soil moisture. The Rodale Institute discovered after a thirty-year farm trial that in the years of drought, corn from organic fields produced 30% more than those grown in inorganic fields. The premise for this higher crop yield is that soils with vast amounts of organic matter and microorganisms act as sponges, they retain and deliver water and other nutrients to the plants. The trial also discovered that natural fields recharge 20% of groundwater.

Use Water Softeners

Lakes, rivers, wells, and even tap water can sometimes be hard, and this is because the water treatment plants do not treat water for hardness.

Hard water contains significant amounts of salts like magnesium and calcium. If used for watering, these salts will eventually form a water-repelling layer over the soil and roots. As a result, watering becomes tedious, and water losses occur, thereby leaving you with the need for more water to meet the water requirements of the plants. Springwell Water Softener, for instance, and similar units can rid the water of salts and make watering easier.

Grow Indigenous Crops

Especially in drought-prone areas, consider growing crops that come from the region, or plants suited to growing in dry climates. Doing so will help you conserve water.

Good Soil Management Practices

Manure application, composting, crop rotation, and reduced tillage frequency are good soil management practices that can improve soil quality. A soil of good quality will hold more water and oxygen, both of which are needed for plants to thrive on.

Instead of Rows, Grow Crops in Blocks

Although row gardening has been in use for years and farmers generally consider it to be good, in terms of water conservation, however, planting in blocks is better. The plants’ leaves provide shade to the earth; thus, less water gets taken up by evaporation.

Store Rain Water

In periods of regular rainfall, collect and store rainwater in rain barrels. In the time of drought, You can use the saved water for irrigation.

Use Black Polythene

A film of black polythene, 1 to 1.5 millimeters thick, if laid around certain crops can prevent surface evaporation, and also keep the soil warm at night and control the growth of weeds. You may need to replace the polythene after one season, as exposure to the sun would have degraded it.

Invest in Tailwater Return Systems

A tailwater return system helps in the collection of surface runoff at the tail end of the field. The collected water gets reused on the farm. The tailwater system comprises a pump, a power unit, reservoir and pipeline

Mulching

Mulching helps in the conservation of soil moisture. Natural mulch like straw has the added advantage of preventing weed growth and improving soil fertility after decay. Apply a mulch of about 3 inches thick. This thickness will suffice in preventing water losses and stop weeds from growing.  

Avoid Over-Watering

A common belief is that crops will do well if supplied with excess water. This belief is a misconception. Plants will use what they require only. The excess will be taken up by either evaporation, infiltration, runoff, or all three of these processes. To avoid losses from over-watering, determine the water needs of your crops, and apply only as much water as needed.

Ensure That There Are No Leaks

Whatever irrigation system you employ, check, and ensure that there are no leaks. Repair or replace any leaks so that all the water gets to the plants.

Irrigate at Dawn and Dusk

Evapotranspiration is the loss of water from the soil and the leaves of the plants. Evapotranspiration is highest during the afternoon as the sun is at its zenith. To avoid losing water, water plants in the morning and evening.

Conclusion

Draught and other factors make water for growing crops a precious commodity, as much as we can, we should conserve this resource. The tips given in this article can help in the conservation of water used in farming. Choose one or all of them and adapt them to the unique needs of your farm or garden.

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