Simply Sustainable Water, developed by sustainable farming organization Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF), includes six steps for managing water quality, and encourages farmers to set a baseline by assessing and mapping water use and sources: boreholes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers and streams.
It also suggests keeping a photo diary of areas prone to flooding, drought and run-off, which the guide says will help farmers build a long-term water management picture.
The six steps are:
- Save water: Demand for water will likely increase, so farmers should protect natural sources to reduce business risk and save money. They should reduce water and reuse where possible — for example, treating and reusing water for washing yards — and collect rainwater run-off.
- Protect water sources: Management tools such as the LEAF Audit, crop protection management plans and nutrient management plans will help farms become less vulnerable, and avoid environmental damage and fines.
- Soil management: The goal here is to increase the soil holding capacity through improved organic matter status, cropping choice and cultivations, and crops’ water use efficiency (WUE), or the crop yield per mm of water use. To achieve high crop yields, farmers should maximize rainfall capture and storage in the soil.
- Drainage: Poor drainage and flooding reduce output, yield and efficiency. When assessing drainage, farmers should first look for wet patches and then check for a problem with a broken land drain, which can be caused by deep cultivation, subsoiling or damage caused by growth of tree roots.
- Tracking water use: The guide suggests using the LEAF Water Management Tool to do this. Farmers should map the location of water meters, install additional ones if needed and record water usage.
- Water availability and sunshine hours: Variable rainfall and sunshine hours increasingly present a business challenge for farmers. While it is much harder to predict sunshine hours, long-term monitoring can help farmers predict the volume of water required. Once predicted, that amount can be split between rainfall, surface water and groundwater, and, if necessary, farmers can change their water mix to meet crop requirements and manage costs.
The guide says 2012 was one of the worst growing seasons on record for UK farmers because of two years of lower than average winter rainfall and drought, followed by record amounts of rain through 2012, which resulted in freak storms and flash floods that submerged farms for months.