Agricultural practices to help conserve water during the expected drought season

(Binyamin Mellish/Pexels)


The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) declared the end of the La Niña condition last March 14, 2023, after a nearly three-year period of above-normal rainfall that affected various parts of the country. This announcement marks the return of the tropical Pacific Ocean to its neutral state. However, despite the shift to neutral conditions, climate models indicate that El Niño may occur later in the year. PAGASA anticipates that neutral conditions may persist from March to June, but El Niño is expected to develop later.

For farmers who have experienced abundant rainfall due to La Niña, the onset of El Niño may present a new challenge. They may encounter drought and hotter weather conditions in 2023-2024. It is advised that farmers should make necessary preparations and implement measures to reduce the impact of the impending weather changes. As we anticipate a drought season, implementing sustainable agricultural practices can help conserve water resources.

READ: La Niña has ended, but rainy conditions may persist in some areas

Use of drought-resistant crops

Planting drought-resistant crops is an effective, sustainable agricultural practice that can help conserve water resources during a drought. These crops are specifically adapted to grow in environments with limited water resources and have evolved unique features to survive in arid conditions with minimal water use.

Drought-resistant crops typically have deeper root systems, smaller leaves, and water-storing tissues that enable them to withstand long periods of drought and water scarcity. By planting these crops, farmers can reduce their reliance on irrigation and other water sources, thereby conserving water resources.

Mulching the soil

Mulching is an effective technique to conserve water during a drought. Mulching involves placing a layer of organic or inorganic material on the soil surface around plants. The layer of mulch serves as a protective cover that helps to regulate soil moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil surface.

READ: How plastic mulch saves on time, effort, and money

During a drought, water becomes scarce, and it is crucial to conserve it. Mulching helps conserve water in several ways. First, the mulch layer reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation by providing a barrier between the soil surface and the atmosphere. This helps keep the soil moist and reduces the need for frequent watering.

Second, mulch also helps reduce water loss from runoff. When water is applied to soil, it can run off the surface and not penetrate into the soil, especially if the soil is compacted or has a high clay content. Mulch can help to reduce this runoff by absorbing water and allowing it to seep down into the soil slowly.

Third, mulch also helps to improve soil structure and fertility. Organic mulches break down over time, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. This helps improve soil structure, which in turn can help the soil to retain water more effectively.

Increase organic matter in the soil

Increasing the amount of organic matter in soil can be an effective way to conserve water during a drought. Organic matter comes from decomposed plant and animal materials and has several benefits for soil health. One of the main ways that organic matter can help conserve water is by improving soil structure. Soil structure refers to the arrangement of soil particles and the pore spaces between them. When there is more organic matter in the soil, it can improve the soil structure by increasing the amount of pore space. This allows water to penetrate deeper into the soil, which makes it available to plants for longer periods of time. Soils with good structure also have better aeration, which is important for root growth and nutrient uptake.

READ: Impact of Organic Fertilizers on Plant Growth

Organic matter is a source of nutrients for plants. When organic matter is added to soil, it provides a slow-release source of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This can increase soil fertility, which is important for plant growth and survival during drought periods. Strong, healthy plants with deep roots are better able to withstand drought stress and continue to grow despite limited water availability.

Organic matter can also help the soil retain water because it acts like a sponge, holding onto water and slowly releasing it back into the soil. This can be especially important during drought seasons when water is scarce. Soils with more organic matter have a higher water-holding capacity, which means they can support plants for longer periods of time without needing to be watered. Additionally, organic matter can help reduce soil erosion by increasing soil stability and reducing runoff, which can help to conserve water further.

Applying water-efficient irrigation methods

Applying water-efficient irrigation methods during drought seasons can help to conserve water and reduce water usage. Drip irrigation, micro-sprinklers, and soil moisture sensors are all effective strategies that can be used to support plant growth and health while reducing the need for additional water sources.

READ: Wiser with Waiss: Introducing Sarai’s smart irrigation technology

Drip irrigation is a water-efficient method that delivers water directly to the roots of plants through a network of pipes or hoses with small holes or emitters. This allows water to be delivered more precisely to where it is needed, reducing evaporation and runoff. Drip irrigation can also reduce water usage by up to 50% compared to traditional sprinkler systems.

Micro-sprinklers are similar to drip irrigation but deliver water in a fine mist or spray. They can be a good option for larger plants or areas where drip irrigation may not be practical. Micro-sprinklers can also reduce water usage compared to traditional sprinkler systems by delivering water more precisely to where it is needed.

Soil moisture sensors can be used to measure the moisture levels in the soil and adjust irrigation schedules accordingly. This can prevent overwatering and reduce water usage during drought seasons. Some sensors can be connected to an irrigation system to adjust watering based on soil moisture levels automatically.

Collecting rainwater

Collecting rainwater is a useful strategy for water conservation in agriculture because it can provide an additional source of water for irrigation during dry periods. Instead of relying solely on groundwater or surface water sources, farmers can collect and store rainwater for irrigation when needed. This can help reduce the demand for traditional water sources, which may be limited during drought seasons or in areas with water scarcity.

To collect rainwater for agricultural purposes, farmers can install rainwater harvesting systems such as roof gutters, downspouts, and storage tanks. The harvested rainwater can be stored in a cistern or tank and used for irrigation later. The size of the system will depend on the amount of rainfall in the area, the size of the agricultural operation, and the water requirements of the crops.

Cover crops

Cover cropping is a method of conserving water during drought because it helps increase soil moisture retention and reduce water loss from evaporation. Cover crops are planted in between crop cycles to cover the soil surface and protect it from erosion and drying out. As the cover crop grows, it helps improve the soil structure, increase soil organic matter, and promote water infiltration and retention.

READ: Manure and Cover Crops Go Well Together

Cover crops help to retain moisture in the soil by reducing water loss from evaporation. The cover crop canopy shades the soil surface, reducing soil temperatures and slowing the evaporation rate. The plant roots also help to increase soil water-holding capacity by creating pores and channels that allow water to move more easily through the soil profile.

Cover crops help to reduce soil erosion by protecting the soil surface from wind and water erosion. The cover crop canopy helps to slow down the impact of water during rain and irrigation and reduce the speed of surface runoff. This allows water to infiltrate the soil more easily, which helps to increase soil moisture retention and reduce water loss from runoff.

Furthermore, cover crops help improve soil structure by increasing the amount of organic matter and microbial activity in the soil. This leads to the development of a more stable soil structure with better water-holding capacity and infiltration rates. This improved soil structure allows water to move more easily through the soil profile and reduces the risk of soil compaction.

Water-efficient technologies

Water-efficient technologies are tools and practices that aim to optimize water usage in agriculture and reduce water waste. Water-efficient technologies such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and precision agriculture can help reduce water usage and improve crop yields.

Hydroponics is a water-efficient technology that involves growing plants in a soil-less medium, such as water or sand. The plants are grown in a controlled environment and supplied with a recirculated nutrient-rich solution, reducing water waste. Hydroponics can reduce water usage by up to 90% compared to traditional farming methods.

Aeroponics is a similar technology to hydroponics, but plants are grown in an air or mist environment instead of a soil-less medium. The plants receive a nutrient-rich mist which helps them grow while using less water than traditional farming methods. Aeroponics can reduce water usage by up to 95% compared to conventional farming.

Precision agriculture involves using advanced technologies such as GPS, drones, and sensors to optimize the use of resources in farming. These technologies allow farmers to monitor crop growth, soil moisture levels, and other environmental factors, which can help them to apply water more efficiently and reduce water waste. Precision agriculture can help to reduce water usage by up to 50% compared to conventional farming.

Applying water at the right time of day

Watering plants in the early morning, just after sunrise, is the best time of day to conserve water. During this time, temperatures are cooler, and there is less wind, which reduces water loss due to evaporation. In addition, plants are just starting to become active and can absorb water more efficiently. Alternatively, Watering plants in the late evening, just before sunset, is another good time of day to conserve water.

Watering plants during the hottest part of the day, typically between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, should be avoided if possible. During this time, temperatures are highest, and the sun is most intense, which can cause water to evaporate quickly before plants can absorb it. Watering during this time can also cause water stress in plants, which can lead to stunted growth, reduced yields, and even plant death.

During the drought season, water resources can become scarce, which can make it difficult to meet the water needs of agriculture and human communities. By practicing water conservation techniques, farmers can reduce water usage and help ensure that water resources are available for essential uses.

In addition to environmental impacts, drought can also have significant economic impacts, particularly in agriculture and other industries that depend on water resources. By practicing water conservation techniques, farmers can reduce their water usage, save money on water bills, and protect their crops during drought.

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