More crop per drop

Water plays a critical role in food security. Population growth and climate change means that water use efficiency in agriculture must increase if we are to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet.

Maximizing water resources

Today, cropland, meadows and pastures take up 38 percent of the world’s land surface (FAO, 2020), but account for 70 percent of the water withdrawals (FAO, 2017). Increasing water use efficiency in agriculture is crucial to protecting both people and planet from water scarcity.

While reducing water usage in agriculture and producing more food for a growing population might seem an impossible task, increased water use efficiency will actually help increase yields. Optimal crop nutrition increases both the crop yield and the water use efficiency of agriculture. Done right, irrigated agriculture will increase water use efficiency and be 2–3 times as productive as rainfed agriculture.

Irrigation of soil via tubes

Irrigation refers to the artificial application of water to the soil through various systems of tubes, pumps, and sprays. Instead of watering the crops only when it rains, the crop is watered a little bit all the time, according to crop needs.

The case for fertigation

Although water systems are important for water management, Yara works to advance water use efficiency through optimized crop nutrition. There is a fundamental relationship between crop nutrition and water consumption. A crop that receives balanced nutrition takes up water more efficiently and produces more yield per unit of water. Similarly, adding biostimulants helps the crop resist environmental stress and improves both water and nutrient uptake.

Adding nutrients and water together, fertigation, further strengthens these mechanisms. Fertigation enables fine adjustment of nutrient supply to crop nutrient demand at each crop growth stage. This increases nutrient use efficiency and reduces nutrient loss and emission to the environment. All irrigation systems can be turned into fertigation systems if you add nutrients to the water. At Yara, we believe that fertigation is a large part of the solution in achieving a nature-positive food future.

Field fertigation and agronomist in Spain
Field fertigation system in Spain

Take potatoes, for example. If you give potato crops exactly the nutrients and water they require through drip fertigation, our field trials found that the finished potatoes have required 31 percent less water and emitted 36 percent less CO2 equivalents per tonne, compared to results obtained with sprinkler or center pivot irrigation and dry fertilization.

Working together with nature

Timing agricultural activities to the weather has always been crucial to successful farming. Drought is the enemy of all crops, and excessive watering, either artificially or by rainfall, can lead to nutrient runoffs and leaching. Yara has worked on nutrient and water use efficiency for a long time and has now put irrigation scheduling in the palm of farmers’ hands with its Farm Water Advisor.

Combining Yara’s crop-demand and soil-water models with The Weather Company’s hyper-local weather forecasts, the Farm Water Advisor provides precise irrigation run times and frequencies.

Two children in a farm in India using fertigation systems

Although many countries, like China and India, subsidize installation of fertigation systems, for many, the challenge with such systems is the cost of installation. This means that while total irrigated land should increase, the water use efficiency in rainfed agriculture must also improve. Using the same weather forecasts, Yara’s Farm Weather advises farmers on when to water and apply nutrients to the crop based on both recorded weather and a 2-week hyper-local forecast, making it possible for all farms and farmers to improve water and nutrient use efficiency.

To grow enough food for the world in a nature-positive way requires us to think differently. We know that by providing the exact amount of nutrients and water that a crop needs, we will produce more food with lower emissions and less water use. In other words: more crop per drop.