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Updated 29 Feb 2020

4 Realistic ways you can save water on the farm

Irrigated agriculture plays an important role in food and water security in South Africa. But, only 1.5% of SA’s farm land is under irrigation. 

Pritesh Ruthun, 22 March 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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Did you know that only 12% of South Africa’s landmass is considered arable – and that only 3% of it is truly fertile?

“Creativity and innovation are essential to improve and sustain food security without compromising or increasing the water demand emanating from this sector,” says the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN).

Irrigation has proven itself a worthwhile mechanism to save water for farmers, but according to AgriSA, only 1.5% of farm land is under irrigation – to produce 30% of the country’s crops. As water supply becomes a greater challenge, you need to look at smart ways to use and save water on the farm.

Related: How to save water in your business


Traveller24 reports that South Africa is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of: “Drier-than-average weather. The 2016/17 season is being forecast as the worst.” The South African Weather Service adds that shortage of water will continue to affect staple crop farmers and commercial crop producers.

Water conservation specialists from Talisa Water share four ways that you can work smarter and save H2O on your farm today:

1. Use more mulch and compost combos

You can use de-composed organic matter to improve your soil structure and increase its water-retention volume.

“Mulch is a material spread over the top of the soil to keep moisture. Mulch prepared from organic materials such as wood chips or straw will be broken down into compost, further increasing the soil’s water retention ability,” Talisa Water’s experts say. A combination of this mulch and your regular compost can help the ground hold more water in dry spells.

You can also use ‘black plastic mulch’ to cover soil and squash weeds while cutting down water evaporation at the same time. This mulch is basically the same as traditional wood chip mulch, but with added plastic particulate to prevent the sun from drawing more water than you want it to.

2. Keep the crops covered

“Cover crops. It reduces weeds, promotes soil fertility and organic matter growth, and helps prevent erosion and compaction,” Talisa Water adds.

It’s suggested that if you cover your crops adequately, water penetration within the soil is more efficient. It also adds to the soil’s water-holding capacity if you’re using the mulch methods mentioned above.

Related: Apply innovative water saving strategies now as drought conditions bite

Drip -irrigation -method

3. Make use of drip irrigation

If you make use of a drip irrigation system, you can save up to 80% more water than traditional irrigation, and can even bring about increased crop yields,” Talisa Water says.

The company explains that drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to a crop’s roots. This decreases the level of evaporation that occurs with traditional spray-watering systems. “Timers can be made use of to plan the watering cycle for the cooler parts of the day, further diminishing water loss,” the company’s experts add.

4. Schedule your irrigation runs

Smart water management is essential for crops farmers, according to Talisa Water: “It’s not only about how water is supplied, but there’s much more to consider.”

In addition to your water supply challenges, you must monitor the weather forecast and patterns, as well as plant and soil moisture and adjust their irrigation schedule to the applicable conditions.

Talisa Water says that certain wine farms use flood irrigation on their plantations. They ‘water’ at night to reduce evaporation – helping water to seep deep into the soil and replenish the aqua table as much as possible.

There are many ways that you can save water on the farm, but it all starts with taking small steps toward a better future. Technology partners like Talisa Water can help you reduce your water use, but the directive must come from you – you must take the reins and strategise on how to use your ‘blue gold’ better.

Related: How to drought-proof your farm


  • Water shortages that are expected well into 2017 will place added pressure on farmers to reduce their usage.
  • You can still achieve yields, using less water by making greater use of irrigation tech.
  • Creative use of mulch and compost can also make your soil more water-retentive.
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Pritesh Ruthun

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