Less is more: How better water resource management can improve the quality and quantity of your yield

Water is one of the most important elements supporting life on our planet. Climate change, urban expansion, and the need to feed a constantly growing population are greatly affecting fresh water resources. Certain areas are faced with imminent water scarcity, and paying for fresh water will soon become a reality in many regions in order to minimise wasted water.
It is therefore evident that there is a strong relationship between agriculture and water resources, especially for crops growing in areas with low precipitation. Overuse of water for irrigation may result in water scarcity, and irrigation practices must be adapted accordingly. But for farmers, water scarcity is not only the problem threatening their yields.

Credits: Ugljesa TrkuljaThe artificial application of water often leads to over- or under-irrigation; both of which are damaging for crops due to the changes they bring about in soil quality. Maintaining the appropriate levels of soil moisture is a key factor for the healthy growth of plants, as it greatly affects the fertility of the land. Up until recently, water was relatively cheap and easily accessible in most places in Europe. Therefore, for many farmers it is has become common practice to apply (often unnecessary) quantities of water when symptoms of unhealthy crop growth are observed. However, making judgements about soil moisture based on plant observation alone is inherently inaccurate, as it relies on the farmer’s assumptions about sufficient crop moisture levels. This practice usually leads to over-irrigation, jeopardising the health of crops.

Excessive irrigation can result in:

  • seeds not getting enough air to “breathe” (respire) effectively, thus hampering germination;
  • plant roots not growing properly, again due to lack of oxygen;
  • increased surface salt due to evaporation, affecting soil fertility;
  • the creation of an environment favourable to diseases;
  • the movement of nutrients and pesticides from the root zone into the ground water (“leaching”);
  • increased cultivation costs.

On the other hand, it is well-known that lack of water can hamper the crop’s health. When irrigation is performed at the right stages during their growing season, it can preserve the crop’s high quality and increase the expected yield. Knowing when plants need water and – perhaps more importantly – when not to irrigate is the first step towards a healthy and prosperous cropland and sustainable resource management. Besides improving the soil’s fertility, good irrigation management can help farmers to minimise the cost of pumping water; the key is to improve crop water use efficiency.

“Using less water, farmers can achieve the same quality / quantity yield and potentially improve it”.

Keeping soil fertile from year to year

Keeping the soil’s moisture at the appropriate level and preventing its fertility from degrading (through nutrient leaching) will save the grower energy, money, and labour. Degraded soil will need time and additional inputs, in the form of nutrients, to return to its initial state – and this can have a negative impact on yield over several growing cycles.
Scheduling irrigation is a complex task. Water resources (which in many cases are limited), salinity, and rainfall variability/uncertainty are some of the environmental parameters that need to be taken into account for proper water management. Routine irrigation without proper consideration of these parameters will almost always result in overirrigation and waste of water and energy. In addition, different crops demand different irrigation strategies over the various crop growth phases.

Good irrigation practices lead to:

  • high quality yields;
  • keeping the soil moisture at a stable level so that the possibility of diseases is minimised while attractiveness to pests is also decreased.
  • energy conservation;
  • water conservation
  • increasing farm productivity.

Credits: Ugljesa Trkulja

How APOLLO can help

From seeding to harvest, APOLLO will help growers to easily improve their farm water management.
APOLLO will provide regularly updated advisory information regarding irrigation (Irrigation Scheduling Service) along with weather data in one-glance interpretation maps. Specifically, APOLLO will provide information on irrigation timing and dosage along with a weather forecast.
Farmers will be able to use these maps to make better decisions on irrigation, saving both energy and time. The expected result is higher quality yields with less water consumption.

APOLLO’s Irrigation Scheduling service will be provided at a low cost to farmers. It can be used alongside the Tillage Scheduling and Crop Growth Monitoring services. The APOLLO services are provided independently from one another, but the natural relationship between tilling, irrigation and crop growth means that it makes sense to use the three of them together.

Relevant APOLLO data products will also be valuable to agricultural consultants, who will be better able to give trustworthy advice to their clients.

References/Sources:
1. Huang, B. and Scott NeSmith, D. (1999), “Soil aeration effects on root growth and activity”, Acta Hortic. 504, 41-52, DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3, https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3
2. Suat Irmak, Soil and Water Resources Engineer and Irrigation Engineering Specialist, Professor (2014), “Plant Growth and Yield as Affected by Wet Soil Conditions Due to Flooding or Over-Irrigation”, Nebraska extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
3. Growstone (2012), “The importance of aeration of soil”.
4. Bhishm Khanna, “What are the harmful effects of excessive irrigation?”, Preserve articles website.

Special thanks to our scientific advisor Mr. Evangelos Anastasiou, Agronomist, Agricultural University of Athens.

Image credits: Uglješa Trkulja, UPOR