I farm in a permanent drought.
I farm in a region in Argentina so dry that we receive less than 20 inches of rain each year. Because rain rarely falls from the sky, we have to pump it from beneath the ground and put it into a sophisticated system of crop production that increases the efficiency of our water use.
We must make every single drop of water count.
Our problem is in fact everyone’s challenge. We live in a world of water scarcity—and water will become only more precious as the global population swells beyond 8 billion people and the climate continues to change in unpredictable ways.
Unfortunately, many people never think about water at all. They turn on their faucets and it flows freely. They treat it as a bottomless resource and take it for granted.
World Water Day, marked every year on March 22, gives us an opportunity to recognize the tests that lie ahead. They are considerable. Only a tiny amount of the world’s water is freshwater, but it takes as many as 5,000 liters of water to produce a person’s daily food, according to the United Nations. That’s enough water to fill more than 16 standard-sized bathtubs to the brim.
That’s a lot of water, and soon we’re going to need a lot more of it. Between now and 2050, says the National Intelligence Council of the United States, water consumption may increase by as much as 50 percent.
To keep pace, we’re all going to have to use water more carefully. The solution will require more efficiency and conservation. Farmers have a big part to play because about 70 percent of the freshwater that people use globally is invested in agriculture.
It also means that the future may look like my farm, where we measure and monitor water all the time because we can’t afford to waste any of it.
Our most important tool to increase water use efficiency is a technique: no-till agriculture.
This means that as we grow corn, soybeans, and wheat, we don’t disturb the soil with plowing, which is a traditional way of preparing the soil and controlling weeds. We break the soil only once every four years, as we rotate our crops and plant potatoes and onions.
The rest of the time, we keep the soil in place and rely on safe crop-protection products, which fight the weeds that seek to steal water and nutrients from our fields. The corn and soybeans are especially useful in this endeavor because they are GM, which means they are built to defeat weeds and are ideally suited to our goals of water conservation.
The no-till technique improves the soil’s infiltration, reducing the amount of moisture that runs off our fields or evaporates into the air. It allows our water to work for the benefit of our crops.
I’m proud to say that Argentina is a pioneer in the development of no-till agriculture, and South America leads the world in the adoption of this water-conservation method.
The water we use comes from deep below our farm. With wells that penetrate more than 300 feet into the ground, we tap into an aquifer. This feeds our system of center-pivot irrigation, which then supplies the water to our crops. Each pivot has its own well.
As we deliver water to our crops, we strive to maximize both yield and conservation, giving the plants the exact amount of water they need to flourish and never more. This involves precise measurements as well as good timing because we want water to arrive during the key stages of a crop’s growth.
We measure the daily use of water of our crops with a weather station and monitoring our soil moisture to know the outputs of water. On the other hand, we measure the amount of irrigation and rain that our crops receive. With all this data we make a weekly water balance to check if our “soil water account” is in red or blue so we can correct quickly
To make sure we’re doing our best, we use soil probes to measure moisture and satellite images to study results. Both technologies are important to our work right now, and we believe they soon will improve significantly and help us conserve even more water.
As we conserve, we also expand—and push the agriculture frontier into more areas of permanent drought, where it otherwise would be impossible to grow crops and produce food.
As the world recognizes World Water Day, I know that I am producing food in a stable and sustainable way, creating value for my family, our team, our community and the state.
The Global Farmer Network is looking for farmers to join our next cohort. If you are, or you know of an exceptional farmer who is passionate about agriculture, please complete a nomination form. Those accepted will join the next Roundtable and Communication Training program to be held September 10-16, 2023 in Washington, DC.
One thought on “Making Every Single Drop of Water Count”
Great way to farm one more opportunity is to make biochar and you are on your way to improving your soil and water use