Two practices to improve on-farm water use efficiency

By Rebecca Shortt, OMAF/MRA Water Quantity Engineer

Are you considering improving your on-farm water use efficiency?  Do you know what practices are eligible for cost-share funding under the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) Implementation Funding Assistance program for producers?

The following paragraphs outline my top 2 recommended practices for improving water efficiency; the importance of monitoring water use with a meter, and  the importance of monitoring soil moisture with an instrument.  They are both eligible for GF2 funding.

Importance of Monitoring Water Use with a Meter

Knowing how much water you use is the first step to increasing farm water use efficiency.  Installing a water meter- is a beneficial step for any farm practice which uses water.

A water meter provides an instantaneous reading of the flow of water for the application (e.g. irrigation system) and helps to diagnose if the system is operating as designed.

  • Higher than usual flow? Check the system for leaks, worn nozzles and malfunctioning valves.
  • Lower than usual flow? Check the system for plugging, malfunctioning valves and pump station performance.

Monitoring the water flow from an application over a period of time, and tracking the total flow reading will help to assess the on-going water use from each application and will help you to evaluate new practices or equipment.

  • Assesses the impact of new management practices on the basis of their water usage.
  • Allows for an optimization of water use by comparing the water use and associated costs of different practices.

Under scenarios of climate change and where water supplies are stressed, a water monitoring program is the first tool needed to identify water-efficient opportunities.

References:

  • Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), Worksheet #13, question 1: “Knowledge of water use and supply system”.  Using a meter and logging the data from the meter is rated as a “Best” practice.
  • Technical Bulletin, Ministry of Environment, Permit To Take Water Program, Monitoring and Reporting of Water Takings: Continuous metering at the point of water taking is the normally accepted, most accurate, and easy-to-use method of monitoring the volume of water taken daily.

In addition to the meter itself, wireless transmission of the meter readings, loggers and software to graph the output are all useful tools to assist you in making good use of the data collected in a timely manner.

Importance of Monitoring Soil Moisture with an Instrument

Monitoring soil moisture is the key to getting the right amount of water to crops at the right time.  The use of soil moisture monitoring equipment will benefit decision-making on all irrigated farms.

Monitoring soil moisture and taking action to use the information provided in irrigation decisions will help growers manage soil moisture.  Choosing the right times and the right amounts to irrigate can lead to:

  • Higher yields
  • Better product quality
  • Improved plant vigour
  • Reduction in disease
  • More effective use of water (water efficiency)
  • Reduced irrigation costs

Soil moisture instrument demonstrations have occurred in southern Ontario and cooperating farms reported the following outcomes:

  • “My understanding of soil moisture monitoring has improved.  I now know the field capacity, wilting point and my optimum irrigation trigger points.”
  • “Soil moisture monitoring helps me determine when irrigation is beneficial.”
  • “Now I know what is going on in the soil profile; before I was guessing”
  • “The soil moisture instruments taught me the best timing and quantities to apply; you can see the trends in the graphs to see if you’ve applied enough or too much.”
  • “From the soil moisture instruments I learned that I was not applying enough water.”

References:

  • Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), Worksheet #13, question 7 “Irrigation Scheduling”.  Using a soil moisture gauge is rated as a “Best” practice.
  • Monitoring Soil Moisture to Improve Irrigation Decisions.  OMAF Fact Sheet www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/irrigation.htm
  • Best Management Practices: Irrigation Management.  2004. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.  p. 29-37

In addition to the soil moisture instruments themselves, wireless transmission of the moisture readings, loggers and software to graph the output are all useful tools to assist you in making good decisions based on the data collected.

For more information on  Growing Forward 2, see  Growing Forward 2 Funding Assistance Program for Producers, Organizations and Collaborations.

Or visit the GF2 website at: www.ontario.ca/growingforward2

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