Tag Archives: water

Agriculture: Improving water quality for all

This blog post was originally posted on the 2degrees network here. We will be participating in a 2degrees webinar, “Agriculture: Where food and water meet” in December, you can apply to attend this here (you must register with 2degrees to apply for the webinar – free of charge!).

I recently read Cate Lamb’s blog post, Avoiding bluewash: How to move beyond efficiency and realize the business benefits of water stewardship, and I liked the definition of a good water steward:

“… good water stewards are those individuals, businesses and countries that have a deep understanding of the impact their activities have upon water resources and the risks this poses to their success”.

I think Cate has the definition to a T. I know of many farmers who are good water stewards by this definition and this is vitally important. The role agriculture has to play in water stewardship is a big one.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK have made water management a challenge for all.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK have made water management a challenge for all.

Agriculture accounts for around 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, even up to 90% in some fast-growing economies [1]. In the UK, drinking water for livestock is the biggest form of water usage accounting for 41% of the total, followed closely by irrigation (38%) [2].

On farm, water is one of the most important natural resources, whether sourced from rain, rivers or aquifers, too much or too little can cause major challenges.

Water is essential for all dimensions of life. Globally, 40% of the world’s population face water shortages and the quality of water in rivers and aquifers continues to deteriorate. With rising populations, it is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50% more food and energy [3], and by 2050 we will need 50% more water for food production alone [4].

Despite the need for more water to sustain a growing demand for produce, rainfall patterns in the UK have been far from average in the last few years. In the last two years alone we’ve experienced droughts and severe flooding. Sudden rainfall events can lead to increased soil run-off which will include the loss of nutrients and crop protection products. Not only will this loss be detrimental to the field and the crop, it will also be detrimental to the quality of water courses in the catchment.

At LEAF, we’ve been working with Catchment Sensitive Farming to help share some of the ways in which farmers have been improving the quality of the water on their farms. Some of the ways this has been done are very simple, for example, a well-positioned run off buffer can prevent the loss of up to an estimated 18 tonnes of sediment over a few years.

This video illustrates two methods of preventing run-off and improving water quality on farm; an off ditch wetland and a run-off buffer

Other methods for improving water quality involve slowing the flow of water through ditches on the farm to allow sedimentation, whilst adding reed beds can help capture extra nutrients that have escaped into the water course. It’s really about having various methods on the farm to help reduce run off at the source, minimise the pathways available for run off and reduce the direct entry of any run off into the water course, all of which can be very simple and cost effective.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK, from drought in 2011 to flooding in 2012, have made water management a challenge for all. However, to quote LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell’s introduction to Simply Sustainable Water, “Water management is a global issue; however, the solutions must happen locally”.

1 – Beddington (2011) Foresight: The Future of Food and Farming
2 – Falkenmark, M. and J. Rockström: Balancing Water for Humans and Nature. The New Approach in Ecohydrology, 2004
3 – 4th UN World Water Development Report, 2012
4 – Defra (2011) Water Usage in Agriculture and Horticulture Results from the Farm Business Survey 2009/10 and the Irrigation Survey 2010


Simply Sustainable Water

Water management is a global issue; however, the solutions must happen locally. The challenge and opportunity for farmers is how to produce more food, using less water, whilst protecting its quality. In the UK we have historically taken water, and its availability, for granted, but the last five years of extreme weather patterns has started to make us increasingly more aware of the challenges and importance of its management.

On farm, water is one of the most important natural resources, whether sourced from rain, rivers or aquifers, too much or too little can cause major challenges. Sudden rainfall events can lead to loss of nutrients and crop protection products and loss of timeliness of operations, while in severe droughts, farmers can struggle to keep livestock and crops alive. Increasingly, farmers will need to adapt to the ‘yo-yo’ effect of drought and flooding, however, putting effective long term risk management strategies into practice can be challenging.

SSWToday, we are delighted to be launching ‘Simply Sustainable Water’ in association with ASDA and Molson Coors Brewing Company. Demonstrating our joint commitment to raising awareness and opportunities for the best of water management and protection.

Measuring progress and delivering change is at the heart of LEAF’s work through the adoption of Integrated Farm Management and this booklet will help you do just that. If you make only one change on your land this year as a farmer, then make this your first step.

‘Simply Sustainable Water’ is available to download free of charge here and you can see a video showing the booklet in practice at Overbury Farms below.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality – New videos available!

Farmers looking at ditch and sediment trapFollowing our Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality events at Midloe Grange Farm in Cambridgeshire (22nd March) and Stratton Farms in Somerset (28th March), videos filmed at the events are now available.

The videos, supported by Catchment Sensitive Farming, look at ways of improving how your farming practices impact water quality. Including:

  • Background information from Catchment Sensitive Farming on some of the issues of diffuse water pollution from agriculture through surface run-off
  • Interviews with LEAF Demonstration Farmers, David Felce and Jeremy Padfield, on the measures they have put in place on their farms to mitigate surface run-off

The videos are available below and on LEAF’s YouTube channel – subscribe to be the first to see LEAF’s new videos!

The Importance of Water Management

This post is by Louise Manning on LEAF’s Water Management Tool, which will be launched at our upcoming President’s Event next week

Water, together with soil, are the underpinning assets of any land based business. Access to water is becoming increasingly important for farmers especially when their farm businesses incorporate irrigated rather than rain-fed farm enterprises. The trend towards reducing diffuse water pollution and also adopting environmental schemes, such as the Higher Level Scheme, has also been a driver towards spring planting where soil moisture content is critical.

Louise Manning ... "Access to water is becoming increasingly important for farmers"

With this in mind, LEAF has developed its Water Management Tool to assist farmers to consider their current practices in managing water as a resource and whether there are opportunities to reduce their environmental footprint, drive business opportunities and save money at the same time. Many of these measures are simple, such as installing water meters or checking for leaks. Others are more complex so the tool is of use to businesses both at the start of considering their water use and those who already have more sophisticated controls in place.

LEAF’s Water Management Tool allows farmers, not only to measure their business water footprint in terms of water used per tonne of finished product, but also the colour spectrum of their water footprint in terms of rainwater stored in the soil as moisture (green water), surface and ground water (blue water) and reused or recycled water (grey water). The quality of the water the business is using in terms of chemical and microbiological standards will also affect the types of crops that can be grown on the farm and ultimately the productive and financial capacity of the business.

About the Author

Dr Louise Manning has a PhD in global food production and is a 2007 Nuffield Scholar. Her scholarship study was on global water policy and its impact on food production. Louise has worked in the food supply chain for twenty five years. Louise can be contacted at louise.manning@rac.ac.uk