How The Ag Tech Industry Can Support Water Conservation in Food Production

Sustainability

Author: UpTerraOct 06, 2022

Global agriculture is at a pivotal moment in its history. The World Bank estimates that food production will need to increase by approximately 70% by 2050 to account for global calorie consumption. Farmers aren’t only responsible for producing enough food to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050; they also face unprecedented challenges that threaten […]

Global agriculture is at a pivotal moment in its history. The World Bank estimates that food production will need to increase by approximately 70% by 2050 to account for global calorie consumption. Farmers aren’t only responsible for producing enough food to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050; they also face unprecedented challenges that threaten their production capabilities. 

Rising global temperatures, emerging and evolving pests, limited arable land, inefficient logistics networks, insufficient labor resources and water scarcity are a few obstacles farmers must overcome to meet global food production demands. 

Of these, water scarcity is one of the most immediate risks. Will there be enough water to produce a profitable crop? How long will water be plentiful? What production changes may be required to conserve water resources? These are questions on farmers’ minds as they navigate a strategy for producing food when high-quality water for agriculture is dwindling.

Global water crisis

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that two-thirds of the planet’s population will face water shortages by 2025. In agriculturally productive areas, there may be enough freshwater resources to meet demands by 2050 with new technology and research investment. Still, significant water availability discrepancy is likely between and within countries. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 528 to 1320 gallons (2000 to 5000 liters) of water are required to produce one person’s daily food. As incomes rise in the developing world, the population demands more complex food that is water-intensive to grow, putting even more strain on resources. With agriculture accounting for, on average, 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals globally, it’s clear that the industry has an invested interest in finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity issues.

Food production without water

What does the future of agricultural production look like if the global water crisis continues? One word: uncertain. We’re just beginning to see how rising temperatures and limited water could change global agricultural production. 

In California, one of the world’s most agriculturally diverse and productive regions, as much as 691,000 acres will be taken out of production in 2022 due to lingering drought conditions and reduced water availability. To put that into perspective, for every acre left unplanted because of a lack of irrigation water, an equivalent of 50,000 salads will be unavailable. If the trend continues over the next 30 years, water supply cuts could lead to the permanent loss of 1 million acres of productive farmland in California.

California isn’t the only region dealing with water issues. This summer’s drought and record heat decimated the cotton crop in Texas. Growing conditions were so dire that the Texas Farm Bureau expects cotton farmers to abandon two out of every three acres planted last spring. Farmers in the Texas Panhandle who typically have had access to irrigation water and the Ogallala aquifer are forced to cut back on water consumption and contemplate crop production changes on their farms. Twenty years ago, the Texas Panhandle was dominated by corn. But, because cotton takes much less water to grow than corn, many farmers in the Panhandle have switched to cotton to conserve water.  These production shifts will likely continue as farmers are forced to make difficult decisions to remain profitable. 

On a global scale, blue water scarcity (BWS) occurs in croplands if the available renewable surface and groundwater resources are insufficient to meet a crop’s irrigation requirements. Major irrigated regions, including Mexico, Spain, North China, Australia, India and Pakistan, consistently face BWS for several months during their crops’ growing season. Farmers must use unsustainable water resources in those months to meet irrigation needs. A 2020 study reports that 68% of the global irrigated croplands face BWS for one month a year, and 37% experience BWS for five months. The researchers estimate that 22% of global calorie production is exposed to at least one month of BWS during the growing season and that 56% of global irrigation volumes are applied on unsustainably irrigated lands.

Even with modern fertilizers, improved seed traits and intensive production methods, crops will be yield-limited without water. Fortunately, water conservation is becoming a top priority in the agricultural industry as farmers, food companies and consumers demand more sustainable food production.  

Irrigation technology offers a sustainable solution

Twenty percent of the total cultivated land is irrigated, and 40% of global food production comes from irrigated crops. That’s because irrigated agriculture is, on average, at least twice as productive per unit of land as rainfed agriculture, which supports more intensive production and crop diversification. However, it’s been reported that 40% of global irrigation practices are unsustainable because they deplete environmental flows and/or groundwater stocks.

Innovative companies are introducing “smart” irrigation and novel water structuring technologies to address the inefficiencies of current irrigation practices. These technological advancements are complementary and can help growers increase their water productivity – that means farmers get more crop yield per volume of water consumed by plants.

Smart irrigation

Smart irrigation technologies consist of sensitive sensors that monitor real-time soil moisture to help guide more prescriptive water applications. Using data from the soil and local weather conditions, smart irrigation technology can formulate water schedules specific to any given landscape. More sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems allow farmers to change the water rate across irrigation events or to apply different rates across productivity zones. 

There are numerous benefits to smart irrigation technology – farmers optimize plant health and quality by providing plants precisely the amount of water they need, and they reduce watering costs by only applying what’s necessary. 

Water structuring in agriculture

UpTerra is leading the agriculture industry with its revolutionary new water productivity technologies. Using biomimicry and innovative irrigation technologies, UpTerra brings water to its optimum state — fully aligned and bioavailable — so that all organic life can benefit.

Our high-volume water structuring devices increase the irrigation water’s charge to create a cohesive molecular arrangement. The result is improved crop hydration and water retention in the soil, resulting in substantial reductions in water use, soil salinity, mineral buildup and pooling. 

When water travels through a wild (unmanaged) watercourse such as a river or a stream, it accumulates electromagnetic energy and elements as it forms vortices around natural bends and boulders. By simulating these natural electromagnetic interactions, our water-structuring devices increase the charge of irrigation water, enabling it to more efficiently carry nutrients and other amendments to where they’re needed most. In essence, water and nutrients are more bioavailable to plants at critical crop growth stages.  

While there are different approaches to conditioning or structuring water, UpTerra’s high-volume capacity (20 to 2000 gallons per minute) water conditioning device is perfect for large-scale agriculture. The benefits of our water-structuring technology on the farm include:

  • 30% reduction in water consumption while gaining 10-50% more yield
  • Improved water infiltration into the soil
  • Improved water-holding capacity in the soil 
  • Better water use efficiency
  • Increased nutrient uptake and fertilizer ROI
  • Simple installation into existing irrigation systems
  • Affordable cost, well under one year payback 

What’s next for water?

It may seem like farmers face an insurmountable hurdle when it comes to accessing high-quality water to optimize future production needs. Fortunately, the technology available today facilitates deeper insights and more understanding than we’ve ever had before. While there’s never a silver-bullet solution to a complex problem like water scarcity, collaboration, open minds, big ideas and innovative execution pave the path towards progress. 

UpTerra is committed to sustainable water use in agriculture – it’s the core of our business. We’re dedicated to investing in research and product development that supports farmers and global agriculture. Our team knows that the status quo isn’t good enough anymore. Farmers and ranchers need solutions now.  We’re visionaries who want to push the boundaries of what’s possible to seek untapped solutions to global agricultural challenges. 

If you’re ready to join us on this journey, please get in touch or call us at 707-UPTERRA.

 

We are the living solution that promises to create the space for both the farmer and the land to thrive.

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