Using Best Practices for Water Management in Farming

Rice farming with treated wastewater (Source: Kumamoto City, Japan)

Rice farming with treated wastewater (Source: Kumamoto City, Japan)

Water is used for a range of purposes in the agricultural sector. But the management of water resources in farming is being severely tested with the rising food and energy prices, an expanding global population, and concerns related to climate change.

According to Jon Freedman who leads global partnerships and government affairs for GE’s water business in Washington DC, the incentives used by communities to encourage water recycling have most commonly taken the form of economic incentives that make recycled water cheaper than potable water. An example of these incentives includes the launching of Karnataka, India’s Industrial Policy for 2014–2019. The policy implements subsidies of up to 75% of the cost of equipment for wastewater recycling by “small and medium manufacturing enterprises.”

The planned development, distribution and utilization of water resources to meet pre-determined agricultural objectives is referred to as Agricultural Water Management (AGW). AGW is an umbrella term that includes the following agricultural practices:

  1. Soil and water conservation
  2. Water harvesting
  3. Irrigation and supplemental irrigation
  4. Drainage

FAO Database

There are many techniques within each of these areas. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a wing of the United Nations, has developed a typology for monitoring water management practices worldwide in the Aquastat database (FAO’s information system of water and agriculture which is global, developed by the Land and Water Development Division of FAO).

  1. To increase and intensify production and/or yields during dry seasons, leading to greater surplus production and increased incomes
  2. To reduce the risk of crop failure from inadequate or unpredictable rainfall
  3. To increase the diversity of products grown in order to increase value and market income, and to improve nutrition


Reduce Consumption


  1. Management of Soil: Soil management is essential for the conservation of water. The soil absorbs, transports and holds water for the plants to utilize. Techniques include conservation tillage, compost, etc. The method also depends on the nature of the soil. 
  1. Water Recycling: The reduction or complete avoidance of run-off, as well as its recycling can save a lot of water. Run-off may occur due to the poor quality of the soil, overwatering, etc. 
  1. Organic Farming: Undertaking organic farming techniques that completely eliminate or at least reduce the use of chemicals is another way for farmers to conserve water. 
  1. Drip Irrigation: It is a popular procedure that saves fertilizer as well as water by allowing the water to drip slowly onto the plant roots, through a network of pipes, valves and narrow tubes. 
  1. Surface Irrigation: Water can be applied and distributed over the surface of the soil, with the help of gravity. There are three major types – level basin, border strip and furrow.

Protect the Environment, Save Money

Driven by a desire to protect India’s water supply and environment GE’s ST CMS Electric Company, Chennai, took a serious look at the millions of gallons of cooling water blowdown that it was conventionally discharging each year. The 250 Megawatt lignite-fired plant uses a lot of water for cooling purposes. So then the blow- down water after reuse in ash disposal was sent to the canal as clarified ash water.

Recycle and Reuse

Water wastage has become a burning issue in the 21st century, regardless of the region. Water being a renewable resource should be recycled and reused. After treatment to a suitable level, urban waste water is a good substitute for surface water or ground water, for irrigation and other uses on farms.

The California Water Recycling Criteria specified certain uses of recycled water, including irrigation of different types of food crops. These criteria involve the requirement of different water quality for irrigation of different types of crops, those that are consumed raw, those that receive some processing before consumption, and those that do not involve consumption in any form before industrial processing. These regulations are among the most stringent in the world and have been used as a reference point for many other countries’ water reuse regulations and guidelines.

Significant environmental benefits can be gained by the redirection of wastewater to fields that may otherwise degrade sensitive water bodies. In addition, recycling agricultural water can reduce withdrawals from the surface water, thereby bolstering water flows for plants & wildlife.


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