Efficient water resource management for high value irrigated crops

21st May 2012

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to irrigate? Despite recent rains, which will help field crops, water reserves are very low following the driest winter for 90 years.

As a result competition for fresh water reserves between domestic consumption and crop production is causing concern for growers, particularly in the Midlands, East and SE of England. The inability to draw on sufficient quantities of water at key periods of the year may lead to low yields, poor quality or crop failure.

In Defra-funded projects, ADAS and Cranfield University, are exploring ways of improving the efficiency of water use for irrigated food crop production both in today’s climate and also under climate change scenarios. The work looks at ways of improving on-farm storage capacity so that water can be captured during winter and stored for use in drier months therefore reducing reliance on surface and groundwater abstraction. One option is to consider the potential to develop collaborative approaches that share the cost of water collection, abstraction, storage and distribution. Another option is to evaluate the potential for increased use of lower quality water. The project also tries to estimate the impact of climate change on the availability of water for both crop and livestock production. ADAS will use its water use model ‘Irriguide’ to assess crop demand for a range of climate scenarios and produce spatial data that will map future water demand and availability. The information will then be captured in a user friendly web-based GIS software tool to help farmers and growers assess future risks and review adaptation options.

A number of aids are already available to help farmers and growers. One example is the Defra-funded best practice guides which improve the irrigation management of potatoes, field vegetable crops and fruit crops. They provide information on a range of practical issues related to efficient irrigation including water quality, seasonal water requirements, water storage, soil moisture monitoring techniques, and irrigation scheduling. ADAS has also developed a water management toolkit which provides practical advice aimed to help farmers and growers monitor overall water use, plan for the future, and show how savings can be made. The toolkit provides advice on the scheduling of water use and a simple, structured means by which farmers and growers can keep records which allow them to review the efficiency of their management practices and identify opportunities for improvement. These booklets can be downloaded at the end of this article.

For further information on water resource management at ADAS please contact simon.grove'at'adas.co.uk.

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