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Water stress in agriculture occurs when the availability of water for crops is insufficient to meet their needs (water demand exceeds available resources). This can have a negative impact on their growth and development. This stress can be caused by a lack of rainfall, prolonged drought or poor water management.
Water stress is a major challenge for many farmers today. Indeed, climate change and increasing dry spells directly impact the water availability for plants. This then endangers parts of the world's agricultural production.
It is essential to find solutions to deal with this problem and limit its impact on the crops.
How to cope with and limit water stress on your crops? Optimising water resources, conserving water on the crops or even agronomic practices, here are some effective solutions that will help you optimise your water use and maintain your productivity in these conditions of increasing drought periods.
Optimising water resources
A first lever at your disposal is the efficient use of water resources. This requires the use of appropriate irrigation techniques, but also the use of irrigation management tools.
Choosing the right irrigation solution
There are various irrigation systems available today: surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation or micro-irrigation systems.
Micro-irrigation systems are water-efficient because they deliver water at a much shorter distance from the plant, thus limiting evaporation. However, it is a system that is difficult to implement on large-scale crops. It is therefore mainly used in market gardening, viticulture and arboriculture. Read our full article on the different irrigation systems.
Monitoring the water status of your cropss using an irrigation management tool
Several tools exist to measure the water status of soils, to monitor the evolution of water availability on the crops and to identify the optimal moment to trigger irrigation.
Among these tools, the best known are soil probes(capacitive or tensiometric probes, but other innovative solutions exist such as solar irradiation sensors. These different sensors are essential for precise monitoring of the amount of water present in the soil. This helps to avoid over- or under-irrigation, thus ensuring efficient water use, adapted to the needs of your crops.
Other optimisation practices
Other practices, such as regular maintenance of irrigation systems, are essential to optimise water use. This prevents unnecessary leakage or loss of water.
Careful monitoring of weather forecasts also helps to adjust the irrigation schedule according to expected rainfall.
Optimising water resources not only helps to cope with water stress, but also to make significant savings in terms of irrigation costs and water consumption.
Water conservation on crops
In addition to optimising water use, water conservation in the field can limit water stress in agricultural fields. Here are some examples of effective solutions available to farmers.
Soil conservation practices, such as ground cover, are effective ways to reduce soil water evaporation.
Ground cover involves planting intermediate crops to maintain a permanent cover, thereby reducing erosion and water loss through evaporation.
Construction of retention basins
These ponds store rainwater, making it available for later irrigation. By collecting runoff water, you can reduce dependence on water from external sources. These ponds can be designed in different sizes and shapes to suit your specific needs.
Selecting adapted varieties
Choosing drought-resistant crops and varieties is one of the key strategies to ensure agricultural productivity by minimising the impact of water stress. Chickpeas, lentils or sorghum are an example of species that are resistant to water shortage.
Some varieties have been selected for their ability to survive with limited water availability. You can ask agricultural research institutes or seed suppliers to identify the varieties recommended for your region.
Crop rotation can help improve soil resilience to water stress. By alternating crops, you can prevent nutrient depletion and degradation of soil structure, while improving the soil's ability to hold water. Some crops, such as legumes, can also enrich the soil with nitrogen, promoting the overall health of the farming system.
When weeds grow alongside your crops, they compete for space, light, soil nutrients, but also for available water. By weeding, you eliminate weed competition and optimise the crop's use of water resources.
Don't forget to consult local experts, such as agronomists or agricultural advisors, for recommendations specific to your region, your crops and local climatic conditions.
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