12 tips to save water on your farm

Agriculture consumes more water than any other source, but much of it can be wasted through inefficiencies.

Over the coming years and decades, coping with water scarcity in agriculture looks set to become an increasing factor due to climate change.

Meteorologists expect more frequent and severe droughts and flooding events will worsen in the future.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published this month, states that continued global warming could further intensify the severity of wet and dry events.

See also: How two growers are using regenerative farming to protect water

Better water management and the use of resource-efficient technologies and irrigation will be crucial to food production. In short, water insecurity means food insecurity.

To mark World Water Week (23-27 August), NFU Scotland (NFUS) has compiled a dozen tips for farmers to follow that could help farm businesses save money, reduce their water use and mitigate the impacts of prolonged dry conditions.

Closer to home, some parts of Scotland have felt the impacts of the prolonged hot and dry weather earlier this summer and areas around the Highlands and Orkney remain significantly scarce of water.

NFUS environmental resources policy manager Sarah Cowie, who compiled the list, said there has “never been a more important time for farmers to use water more efficiently.”

Here are NFUS’ 12 top tips for more effective water use:

  1. Understand how much water your business uses on a daily or weekly basis to understand your demands. This will help you decide the best ways to save water and money. If you abstract water, it will also help you comply with the conditions of your authorisation.
  2. Make sure taps are switched off when not in use and water troughs are not overflowing. Using a pressure washer, where practical, instead of a volume washer can also help. 
  3. Educate and involve staff on implementing water-efficiency measures. Ensure staff know they should report faults or leakages straight away. Regular walk-round surveys of the business can identify minimisation opportunities.
  4. Fix drips and leaks as quickly as possible. A leak or dripping tap that loses 1ml/sec will increase water use by 31cu m, or nearly 7,000gal in a year. Protect against cold weather-related leaks by insulating pipes and checking them regularly.
  5. Investigate alternative water sources – for example, harvesting rainwater through a roof catchment or reusing wastewater. Once captured, you can use the water where non-drinking water is required. 
  6. If using a meter, check the meter size is appropriate to the amount of water you use. Like other utilities, it is possible to shop around for the best price. The Scotland on Tap website can help you find a supplier best suited to your needs.
  7. Using a borehole can reduce water use costs, but the initial capital cost can be high. Permission from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is required to construct a borehole. One of several licences is also required depending on the volume of water to be abstracted. The details of requirements for different levels of abstraction are available on the Sepa website.
  8. Irrigation is a high consumer of clean water in dry seasons. Only irrigate when, and only as much, as absolutely necessary. Optimise use of irrigation water by monitoring weather forecasts, soil moisture deficits and crop growth stage using irrigation scheduling techniques. Consider whether you could switch to using groundwater rather than river water if conditions worsen. 
  9. When irrigating your land, check equipment isn’t leaking, don’t overspray, and use trickle irrigation where appropriate. You could also stagger abstractions with other operators, reduce the volume used, and irrigate at night where possible. It’s important to always follow conditions in your abstraction permit.
  10. Invest in new water efficient equipment. This may mean a larger initial investment, but it will pay off in the long-term by reducing your bills. 
  11. Keep up to date with Sepa’s water scarcity situation report, which is published weekly during the summer season. 
  12. Further information is available from Farm Advisory Service, Sepa, NetRegs, and Farming & Water Scotland.