Water represents the lifeblood of many industries, but especially agriculture. Agricultural success is highly dependent on irrigation that covers approximately 9.6 million acres with roughly 34 million acre-feet of water during an average year. In years of droughts, the agricultural industry is severely impacted, and so growers worldwide are taking necessary steps toward innovations and technology to maximize the water they have and sustain agriculture.

For the U.S., the question is, will innovation happen fast enough to sustain growers through seasons with the greatest droughts, while still meeting the most stringent regulatory restrictions?

The pressure to find innovative ways to maximize available water is especially acute in California since the agriculture industry accounts for almost 80% of all the water used in the state. For example, the California drought that occurred from 2014 to 2016 resulted in statewide economic losses of approximately $3.8 billion. So, if droughts have highlighted anything, it is the importance of embracing new technologies that help to optimize water management and mitigate the risks of any future disasters.

We spoke with Jared Hutchings, agronomist and consultant for Sentry Ag Services, LLC, who has a keen understanding of the water issues specific to California. Born and raised around agronomy, he is passionate about how to optimize the use of water in farming, delivering the best possible value at the highest efficiency.

The California drought opened the eyes of many people, forcing them to ask the hard questions on whether they are doing everything they can to be more water efficient. We are entering a period where being water deficient will be a reality. Attention must therefore focus on how to manage it right, he said.

Of course, complicating matters is that there is no universal solution to the problem. Every farm is different, and depending on their means and motivation, some farmers are more progressive than others. The drought has pushed even the most conservative farmers to look at ways to innovate further. Today, there is an increased awareness of water use and how implementing something as straightforward as flow meters on wells will make a massive difference, said Hutchings. He believes that introducing flow meters are the primary and most effective way of bringing awareness into how much water farmers are and should use. Additionally, Jared noted that soil surfactants have always played an important role in reducing crop physiological stresses, and will now be even more in the spotlight.

More farmers will start experimenting with this type of technology to improve their water efficiency, says Hutchings. The first to use soil surfactants have been farmers with high value crops. They have more flexibility with their sprinkler systems and typically have more money to experiment. These farmers can water to the exact specifications of what their crop requires and are not reliant on a more typical flood system.

The introduction of Californias Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will also help water efficiency, but at the same time apply pressure to many small growers without the means or know-how to adapt to these restrictions. Even though it was enacted in 2014, the learning process has only really started kicking in now with growers trying to figure out how to best implement changes to meet the requirements. To this end, the state is already one year into a five-year information gathering exercise about water usage. Once completed, regulation will then be enforced, with growers getting an allocation of how much water they can pump out of the ground.

Hutchings explains, While [growers] provided some input on the legislation, they could have been more aggressive in doing so. Unfortunately, getting [growers] to agree on anything is extremely hard as historically everybody does things their way. The industry predicts that 30% of farmable acres will be taken out when SGMA is fully implemented, which will have a significant impact.

According to Hutchings, those farmers not in irrigation districts with two sources of water will be in trouble and potentially need to shut down full farming operations. In general, the closer to the mountains you are, the better off you will be. The further west your farm is, the more you should be concerned. When the regulation combines with a lack of education from the non-agronomic community who does not understand the issues well enough, the situation can become dire. So many livelihoods are impacted by water and the public [does] not fully appreciate it. Some people do not see the value of farmers, believing produce just magically appears in stores.

Growers need water. The reality is that they will need to focus on achieving efficiency in water usage for the rest of their careers. Those who embrace technological innovation and harness it now will be able to sustain their passion for farming.

Tom Wood is GM of Belchim Crop Protection USA. He can be reached at [emailprotected] See all author stories here.

See original here:
Rock and a Hard Place: Constrained U.S. Growers See Future in Water Innovation - Agribusiness Global

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