Water and Agriculture

Changed on: 25.01.2017

Clean and high-quality water is not only an important daily comestible, but also essential in agriculture. The availability of water – either through storage in the soil or additional irrigation – is vital for food security, in addition to soil fertility. AGES underpins the sustainable use of this valuable resource through the work of its Food Security Division.
The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation) expects there will be a shortage of water available for irrigation in many regions in the foreseeable future. The agricultural sector is already among the biggest water consumers. Quality is also a vital criterion, in addition to availability.

More information

Clean and high-quality water is not only an important daily comestible, but also essential in agriculture. The availability of water – either through storage in the soil or additional irrigation – is vital for food security, in addition to soil fertility. AGES underpins the sustainable use of this valuable resource through the work of its Food Security Division.
The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation) expects there will be a shortage of water available for irrigation in many regions in the foreseeable future. The agricultural sector is already among the biggest water consumers. Quality is also a vital criterion, in addition to availability.

More information

  • Minimising water consumption through integrated production systems (integrated crop cultivation)

    •  Variety selection – drought resistance 
    • Optimised availability of nutrients for cultivated crops through appropriate fertilisation regime

Irrigation Water Quality

Irrigation water quality is an essential factor in plant vitality. Different quality criteria can be specified depending on use. As a result, the quality standards for hydro and pot cultures are very high, while the standards for outdoor use are less strict.

In general, water contains a variety of salts and minerals, the total content of which can indicate the possible effect it might have on plant root systems. This is relatively easy to determine by measuring the water’s electric conductivity (EC). However, such salts can also be analysed individually. Salts of the elements calcium and magnesium, the sum of which also defines water hardness, have the highest importance in terms of levels. Carbonates are the most important (carbonate hardness).

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However, other components also play a key role, in particular if they serve as nutrients. Among them is nitrate, the content of which should be considered when fertilising. A high iron content may cause stains on the plant or clog irrigation pipes and hoses. A high zinc content may lead to zinc accumulation in the soil.

AGES offers a wide spectrum of analysis methods for irrigation water that can be adapted to individual requirements. Each analysis result will be complemented with the relevant evaluations and tips for use, upon request.

Trough water

Water is also crucial in animal nutrition, as it is in many other areas of life. Livestock animals require up to five litres water per kilogram food (dry mass). Yet, neither the current national nor the EU feed laws refer much to this important medium.

However, there are some general regulations that can be applied to water. Nothing must be fed to animals that could pose a threat to the health of the animals and humans, for example (Art. Feed Act). This applies to water as a component in feedstuffs.

Water as a standalone component is even exempted from the jurisdiction of the relevant EU Feed Regulation (EC) 767/2009 and the Feed Hygiene Regulation (EC) 183/2005 only includes a general reference to trough water.

This is because taking over trough water criteria would have led to a ban of the use of many conventional watering place systems, such as troughs, tubs or barrels. However, it is mandatory to use only water that is “clean” and “suitable for animals”. Furthermore, the waterpipes used must be made of chemically non-reactive material.

 

These requirements for clean water and water suitable for animals are not defined in any more detail in the Animal Feed Act. Germany has submitted a proposal for orientation values to the European Commission to assess compliance to these criteria, which are used by the Austrian Feed Inspection body to categorise the suitability of trough water in this manner.

This proposal lists general criteria on flavour, tolerance and usability and also criteria on microbiological, chemical and physical quality. This includes conductivity, pH value, soluble salts, heavy metals, trace elements and minerals. Information on the hygiene quality of trough water can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection in Germany.


Soil Hydrology – Lysimeter Experiments

Protecting local groundwater and its quality has top priority in Austria. A legal framework including the Water Act and systematically promoted activity programmes such as ÖPUL make nationwide groundwater protection possible.

Yet, risks continue to exist due to new agricultural management activities,  but also as a result of climate change, which may, in turn, lead to changes in the use of the land.

A research project (LYSTRAT) funded by the Climate Fund at the AGES lysimeter facility in Hirschstetten is currently analysing what these changes mean in regards to the quantity and quality of newly formed groundwater.

Different climate scenarios are tested for their effects on the soil and groundwater, soil biology, the development of climate-relevant gases and productivity on the three main soil types in the Marchfeld Region.

 

 

 

Spreading harmful organisms

A number of organisms that can damage cultivated crops have their habitats (also) in bodies of water and could reach the plants and affect them when water is transported to cultivation areas or used on them.

Such organisms include, for example, phytophthora types that may live in water tanks and heated reservoirs and can be spread over crops through irrigation. 

Furthermore, bacteria that are damaging to plants (e.g. Ralstonia solanacearum, causes bacterial wilt) can also survive to some extent in running and/or standing water.

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Wissenschafter mit Mikroskop

Harmful organisms that adhere to plants may be released into the waste water when washing cultivated crops or any of their parts (such as bulbs, beets). Not decontaminating the waste water could result in bacteria, such as Ralstonia solanacearum, potato cyst nematodes, phytophthora types or viruses, being released into standing or running water.

AGES is attempting to create awareness of these hazards by providing appropriate information, thus, reducing risks in plant production.

Integrative solutions for the sustainable use of the resource water can be developed by comparing and using the results and experience of the individual areas.

    © AGES (120 K)
    Zusammenfassung "AGES - Nachhaltige Landwirtschaft für Wasserschutz"
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