How Farmers Are Using Water Conservation

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Water has always been the first and most precious resource for any community.

Mark Twain would have seen this along the Mississippi River and the towns and farms it supplied. Then he would observe the role water played in the West when he followed the pioneers out to California and Nevada in the 1860s.

In modern times, no one knows better how vital water is to all of us than farmers. They need to keep their crops alive and flourishing but also be sure they are protecting their water source for all the dry seasons to come.

Farms, both big and small, are becoming examples for harnessing and preserving this life-giving resource.

100 Years of Water Use in Northern California

Farmers have come a long way in their ability to use water wisely. Take a typical family in Northern California. Many from this region have been farming the same 100 acres of land on the Sacramento River for 105 years.

Through three generations, the family has had horses, grapes, apples, nectarines, and apricots on the property. But the main crop has only changed once: peaches until the 1950s, and prunes to the current day.

The current farmers have a particular interest in water conservation. They have educated themselves on the best irrigation methods for crops in this area of the country.

Flooding the Crop

In the beginning, like all the farms in the area, farmers would water their crops with flood irrigation when the ground was dry. A pump would deliver water from a well into one field at a time. Water would stay in the field inside boundaries of built-up earth, and seep down to the roots.

Flood irrigation is simple and requires minimal equipment, but for most crops, it is an inefficient use of water. Often, it used about four acre-feet of water per year.

Sprinklers

To use less water and gain a little more precision about where the water went, farmers switched to a system of pipes and sprinklers. Workers would move large metal pipes from one section of the orchard to the next. They hooked the pipes up to the pump and pointed the spray directly onto the trees.

The sprinkler method used about three acre-feet of water per year. A significant improvement, but still not as efficient as they would like to be in a place where water supply is always at risk.

Hose and Drip

Now, the orchards used drip irrigation. The farmers lay flexible black roll pipe directly along the rows of trees, lining up the holes with the tree roots. Water goes only to the trees and is no longer watering all the weeds in the spaces between the rows.

The drip irrigation system has reduced water use to one acre-foot of water per year on some California farms. Combine this simple but efficient system with modern sensors to measure real-time water output, and every single drop of water is put to work.

Using Modern Tools to Measure Water

Finding the right method of water delivery for the land is the first and most significant step to managing your water source wisely. But modern-day farmers don’t stop there.

Tracking Where the Water Is

Farmers across the country use tools installed on their property to understand what the water is doing precisely on their land.

Ground sensors at one, two, three, and four feet deep in the soil track where the water level is below the surface. Ground sensors can be part of a tool such as a DTN ag weather station, which can send current moisture data and weather readings from each field.

A weather station can also tell the farmer what the soil temperature is, and how quickly the water is leaving their land and crops through evapotranspiration.

A pressure bomb can tell a farmer exactly how much water is available to a tree. Just before dawn, he takes a piece of plant and puts it inside the pressure bomb chamber. He then slowly adds pressurized gas until water comes out of the leaf or plant.

If it took too long for the pressure to extract water, the farmer knows his plants are not getting the supply they need. Taking a measurement predawn is usually the most indicative of how much moisture the plant has access to overall. However, farmers will often take a sample midday to learn about the stress level of the plant when the sun is the hottest.

Using Tools to Know the Weather

Every farmer knows the most valuable tool they have in conserving water is understanding the weather patterns in their area. The most efficient irrigation system is still wasting water if they spend one day saturating their crop, then watch the rain falling for free the next.

Organizations like the California Irrigation Management Information System will give access to weather data collected from a system of weather stations throughout a designated area. Farmers can learn things like:

  • How much water their kind of crop has used in their area
  • What the precipitation pattern has been in the past
  • What the weather is likely to do next.

Many farms see value in investing in weather stations directly on their property. Knowing precisely what the crop needs, and whether there will be rain soon, can save the farm thousands of dollars each day. And as more farmers become experts on what the water is doing on their land, they can work together to preserve the water in their area.

Taking Advantage of Water Education in Nebraska

The states of the Great Plains know how precious water can be. Eight states draw their water from the Ogallala Aquifer, stretching across 175,000 square miles. The U.S. Geological Survey states the aquifer level has dropped an average of 16 feet in the last several decades.

When the aquifer was being formed about 10 million years ago, it was fed by runoff into its western edge by the Rockies. That water source has since been closed off by erosion, and the water level depends solely on precipitation.

Farmers are Becoming Experts on Water Behavior

The farmers who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer know the urgency of using the water they have wisely. That’s why 1,500 farmers and cooperators have joined the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN).

The NAWMN is a knowledge-sharing group that tests out water-saving technologies. They share their experiences with types of irrigation, water sensors, erosion-reducing crops, and soil, among many other water-related topics. They are educating each other, and everyone who draws from the Ogallala aquifer will benefit.

Many farms in Nebraska use pivot-irrigation to bring water to their crops. Long pipes on wheels suspended over that crop rotate around a center pivot, creating the circular fields easy to spot from an airplane.

Pivot irrigation has been around for 50 years, but low-pressure nozzles and water sensors in the ground are making them more efficient than ever before.

When the surface of the ground starts to look dry, it’s natural to think it’s time to begin supplementing the crop’s water supply. But if ground sensors are saying the roots are still drinking, the sprinklers can wait a few more days.

A farmer can save about $2,000 for every 2 inches of water he doesn’t use. And that water stays where it is, ready to use on an even drier day.

Backing up Instinct

Strong instinct has always been an indispensable trait of a successful farmer. Farmers who know their land, their crops and their weather will have a much better chance of success. Today’s farmers know that. They still rely on their gut, but thanks to modern technologies, they can make informed decisions better than ever before.

Biomass Energy and Sustainability

biomass-sustainabilityBiomass energy systems offer significant possibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to their immense potential to replace fossil fuels in energy production. Biomass reduces emissions and enhances carbon sequestration since short-rotation crops or forests established on abandoned agricultural land accumulate carbon in the soil. Biomass energy usually provides an irreversible mitigation effect by reducing carbon dioxide at source, but it may emit more carbon per unit of energy than fossil fuels unless biomass fuels are produced in a sustainable manner.

Biomass resources can play a major role in reducing the reliance on fossil fuels by making use of thermo-chemical conversion technologies. In addition, the increased utilization of biomass-based fuels will be instrumental in safeguarding the environment, generation of new job opportunities, sustainable development and health improvements in rural areas.

The development of efficient biomass handling technology, improvement of agro-forestry systems and establishment of small and large-scale biomass-based power plants can play a major role in sustainable development of rural as well as urban areas. Biomass energy could also aid in modernizing the agricultural economy and creating significant job opportunities.

Harvesting practices remove only a small portion of branches and tops leaving sufficient biomass to conserve organic matter and nutrients. Moreover, the ash obtained after combustion of biomass compensates for nutrient losses by fertilizing the soil periodically in natural forests as well as fields.

The impact of forest biomass utilization on the ecology and biodiversity has been found to be insignificant. Infact, forest residues are environmentally beneficial because of their potential to replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

Plantation of energy crops on abandoned agricultural land will lead to an increase in species diversity. The creation of structurally and species diverse forests helps in reducing the impacts of insects, diseases and weeds. Similarly the artificial creation of diversity is essential when genetically modified or genetically identical species are being planted.

Short-rotation crops give higher yields than forests so smaller tracts are needed to produce biomass which results in the reduction of area under intensive forest management. An intelligent approach in forest management will go a long way in the realization of sustainability goals.

Improvements in agricultural practices promises to increased biomass yields, reductions in cultivation costs, and improved environmental quality. Extensive research in the fields of plant genetics, analytical techniques, remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) will immensely help in increasing the energy potential of biomass feedstock.

A large amount of energy is expended in the cultivation and processing of crops like sugarcane, coconut, and rice which can met by utilizing energy-rich residues for electricity production. The integration of biomass-fueled gasifiers in coal-fired power stations would be advantageous in terms of improved flexibility in response to fluctuations in biomass availability and lower investment costs. The growth of the biomass energy industry can also be achieved by laying more stress on green power marketing.

Agricultural Biomass in Malaysia

Malaysia is located in a region where biomass productivity is high which means that the country can capitalize on this renewable energy resource to supplements limited petroleum and coal reserves. Malaysia, as a major player in the palm oil and sago starch industries, produces a substantial amount of agricultural biomass waste which present a great opportunity for harnessing biomass energy in an eco-friendly and commercially-viable manner.

Peninsular Malaysia generates large amounts of wood and’ agricultural residues, the bulk of which are not being currently utilised for any further downstream operations. The major agricultural crops grown in Malaysia are rubber (39.67%), oil palm (34.56%), cocoa (6.75%), rice (12.68%) and coconut (6.34%). Out of the total quantity of residues generated, only 27.0% is used either as fuel for the kiln drying of timber, for the manufacture of bricks, the curing of tobacco leaves, the drying rubber-sheets and for the manufacture of products such as particleboard and fibreboard. The rest has to be disposed of by burning.

Palm Oil Industry

Oil palm is one of the world’s most important fruit crops. Malaysia is one of the largest producers and exporter of palm oil in the world, accounting for 30% of the world’s traded edible oils and fats supply. Palm oil industries in Malaysia have good potential for high pressure modern power plants and the annual power generation potential is about 8,000 GWh. Malaysia produced more than 20 million tonnes of palm oil in 2012 over 5 million hectares of land.

The palm oil industry is a significant branch in Malaysian agriculture. Almost 70% of the volume from the processing of fresh fruit bunch is removed as biomass waste in the form of empty fruit bunches (EFBs), fibers and shells, as well as liquid effluent. Fibres and shells are traditionally used as fuels to generate power and steam. Palm oil mill effluent, commonly known as POME, are sometimes converted into biogas that can be used in gas-fired gensets.

Sugar Industry

The cultivation of sugarcane in Malaysia is surprisingly small. Production is concentrated in the Northwest extremity of peninsular Malaysia in the states of Perlis and Kedah. This area has a distinct dry season needed for cost-efficient sugarcane production. Plantings in the states of Perak and Negri Sembilan were unsuccessful due to high unit costs as producing conditions were less suitable.

The lack of growth in cane areas largely reflects the higher remuneration received by farmers for other crops, especially oil palm. Over the past 20 years while the sugarcane area has remained at around 20000 hectares, that planted to oil palm has expanded from 600 000 hectares to 5 million hectares.

Other leading crops in terms of planted areas are rubber with 2.8 million hectares, rice with 670 000 hectares and cocoa with 380 000 hectares. Malaysia, the world’s third largest rubber producer, accounted for 1 million tons of natural rubber production in 2012. Like oil palm industry, the rubber industry produces a variety of biomass wastes whose energy potential is largely untapped until now.

Sustainable Agriculture with Liquid Organic Fertilizers

Agricultural practices are increasingly leaning towards committing to a sustainable environment. In light of this, organic farming has become acceptable to many farmers. Many are practicing environmental- friendly practices such as using organic liquid fertilizer instead of the synthetic alternative.

The misuse and abuse of synthetic fertilizers is responsible for many of the health problems that humans experience today. It has also contributed to a large extent to the deterioration of the environment.

Organic agriculture has experienced fast growth globally. Organic systems involve the natural management of soil through the following practices:

  • Composts
  • Animal manure
  • Mowed or tilled over crops
  • Application of soil-organic matter

These nourish the soil by steadily releasing nutrients to the crops as the organic matter that has been added to the soil breaks down. The chemical and physical properties of the soil are improved by the exogenous organic matter applied to the soil. This also improves the biological functions of the soil which results in a healthy and wholesome crop free of dangerous disease causing chemicals.

Why Organic Liquid Fertilizer is Sustainable

Organic fertilizer is derived from naturally existing products such as plants and animal manure. This makes it a sustainable product. Waste from animals such as cows, rabbits, fish and chicken is used to make organic fertilizer that provides much-needed nutrition to plants and soil as well.

Naturally occurring vegetation and waste will always be available as it renews itself. Besides, plants can be reused to make fertilizer for the next batch once harvesting is done. Since organic farming takes care of the environment, it is safe to say that vegetation is safe for the long run. Organic fertilizer is also made from human waste such as urine and that is definitely sustainable.

Organic gardeners love to have a bottle of organic fish fertilizer on hand for feed young seedlings. This fertilizer also works well on plants in containers and any crop that may be suffering from ‘malnutrition’.

Why and When to Use Liquid Fertilizers

Seeing as liquid manures act faster than solid organic ones, they are the best option in the following circumstance:

  • For seedlings that have exhausted the nutrients provided by newly sprouted seed. It is especially crucial if the fertilizer you are using is a soil-free seed starting mix. While it helps in damping off, it fails to provide adequate nutrients.
  • When seedlings show signs of not having had enough nutrients. If the color fails to darken after a fertilizer has been added, it is an indication that they have not had a fair share of nutrients.
  • If you have container-grown plants, liquid fertilizers are what your plants yearn for. Container-grown plants depend entirely on the grower for nutrients and moisture. They need to be fed frequently with an organic liquid fertilizer in order to thrive.
  • When you are growing cold-tolerant crops which begin their journey of growth in low soil temperatures. Liquid fertilizers are great for boosting nutrients for such plants since it is difficult to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen in wintry temperatures.

Organic liquid fertilizers are short-acting. Consequently, they are easier to regulate that dry organic ones which are longer-acting. The ease with which liquid fertilizers can be used makes them quite popular and therefore sustainable.

Important Tip

Do not mix too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the soil. This is not reversible. The release of nitrogen into the soil increases as the temperature rises. You may consequently end up with huge plants but no production. The best time to apply a short-acting fertilizer is just when it is needed by the crop. Then you have less chances of overdoing the application.

When your plants are well into the season, you can feed them an organic liquid fertilizer to rejuvenate crops such as tomatoes which live long in the ground. Tomatoes are known to awaken with gusto once you give them two feeds of a good organic liquid fertilizer.

The Specifics of A Shipping Container Environment

The use of recycled shipping containers has found excellent footing in today’s society. There are so many different ways that the current modern system has created a new dichotomy of agriculture. If you are curious to understand the concept of the these containers and the specifics that come with them, keep reading!

Concept of Shipping Container Environment

This is the environment where old shipping boxes get used. They get planted crops and make sure that the food production would reach the market fresh and in the right order. There are many advantages to using such environment.

Advantages of Shipping Container Farming

A shipping container is an environment created to provide a complete farming experience and crop production system that aims to create a system that works all year round.

The yearly production is genuinely a pleasant experience as the countries can produce internally and importation of products as well as smuggling activities could be reduced.

The system uses an intelligent and super-efficient LED lights or grow lights that can substitute the sun’s rays. The entire container is equivalent to a farm that can produce up to two acres of crops.

The inside of the farm allows the produce to grow in an insulated environment that is around 40′ by 8′ by 9.5′. Most of the regions that would benefit from the farm system are the cold weather system countries. In these countries, producing food crops is a big problem. Shipping is also costly since importation is the only source of food.

With the use of farming containers, importation is cut down. The cost of using and maintaining a farming container is still cheaper by at least three times compared to the average consumption of most industrial food crop producers. It takes an average of kilowatts per hour of energy daily to maintain the farm. However, it is still more cost-effective to do it this way, especially for cold countries or those countries that have less agricultural lands available for them.

The price of obtaining a shipping container farm is not low. However, this price is worth the investment as the production is either increase or made possible. It is also more advantageous because it is less expensive to maintain a shipping container for him than one that is land-based or is naturally and agricultural land. On average, you should expect to spend around $50,000 to $85,000 to purchase one shipping container.

Some countries are considering requiring old shipping companies to donate or sell their old shipping containers to the governments in exchange for tax breaks. However, this policy is only a suggestion for most countries and is not yet get implemented.

Another great advantage of a shipping container for him is the fact that it is often compact. Because of its size or at least of its portability, there is a great advantage to it. It is easier to get transported from one place to another. It is also easier to have less footprint than using land-based crop production.

Zoning is also not a problem when it comes to containing her forms. Most of the companies that use this process can place their containers in both rural and urban areas. The reason behind this is the fact that there are no zoning laws against maintaining a repository in most areas.

Container farms also do not use new water. The creators of this modern technology got able to use recycled water to maintain the irrigation system within the container farms.

Vertical Growing: The Best Part of Container Farming

The best part of container farming is the fact that it uses a vertical system to grow the crops. Environmental sensors get used during the cycle of growth of the plants. These sensors allow for the farm system to control all of the essential factors in growing the crops.

The factors such as temperature, airflow, nutrient levels, humidity, as well as the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels get controlled.

The Future of Agriculture

Container farming can get considered as the future of agriculture. It provides for a modern and straightforward approach to crop production that reduces waste and cost for food suppliers. Importation could be a problem of the past for countries that are unable to produce their crops. However, since trade is a fundamental economic aspect of most countries, that will not fully illuminate the land-based agricultural production of crops.