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Updated 21 Sep 2020

How to succeed in farming with ongoing drought conditions

Water constraints are evolving from a short-term crisis to a new reality. How do you keep your agribusiness going as droughts persist across the country?

22 April 2018  Share  0 comments  Print

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Have recent dry spells resulted in you thinking about the impact of a water constrained future? Water scarcity’s effect on commercial and small-scale farmers will be challenging and local farmers are already receiving a lower per capita water supply compared to some of their global counterparts.

Research by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) shows that only about 9% of rainfall actually makes it into our rivers and eventually to farms.

Related: The 7 habits of highly effective farmers

Why crop farmers must improve their water usage

Irrigated agriculture accounts for more than 60% of South Africa’s total water usage. With less rainfall, diminishing water supplies are expected to adversely affect farmers. 

It’s been reported that agribusinesses are less likely to receive an increase in water allocation, which leaves it up to agricultural sector players to shift their perspectives on water use. It’s believed that shifting the mindset, from being users of water to being custodians of it, will help farmers to embrace and implement water-friendly technologies, systems and approaches. 

How crop farmers are reducing water use

Reducing -water -use

Water-free farming

What was the challenge in India?

The second-most populated country in the world has been undergoing persistent drought as climate change depletes water tables. Farming is India’s lifeblood and with less than half of cultivated land irrigated, fields are drying up leaving millions hungry.

What solutions did they use?

Small ponds or ‘dobhas’, are used during monsoon season to catch and store rainwater for irrigation during drier months. An affordable soil moisture sensor also helps farmers identify when soil is dry and how much water is needed, to avoid water wastage, even in time of abundance. Farmers receive weather and crop updates via an app designed to also alert them when crops need to be fertilised and educate them on water-saving sowing methods.

How is this farming technique beneficial?

Indian farmers are now able to use water more sparingly, while still being able to feed their families. They are yielding more crops than ever before, with some reporting harvests five times bigger than before they started using water more sparingly.

Related: 3 Steps to a winning strategy for your agribusiness

Growing sweeter crop without water

What was the challenge in the USA?

The scorching summers in California mean conditions aren’t always ideal to yield a substantial harvest. The densely-populated state’s water tables are dropping and its rivers are drying up.

What solutions did they use?

By restricting a plant’s water intake, and then eventually cutting it off after a few weeks, it adjusts by sending its roots deeper underground than normal to find moisture in the soil.

How is this farming technique beneficial?

These plants start to produce fruits with a lower water content and more sugar and flavour, making them popular with consumers. If your produce is in demand, you could make a better profit. 

Ways to use less water on your crop farm

Here are a few easy ways to start protecting water on your farm today:

1. Guard against surface crust

Soil tends to form a puddle, creating a crust that blocks water intake. Tillage helps create a surface that reduces the effects of rain on chunks of mud that block water retention.

2. Decrease water runoff

Level cropland helps reduce runoff and soil erosion. To further prevent overflow, plant crops perpendicular to the slope of the land and add either bunds or contour strips to the field.

Related: 5 Types of insurance you need for your agribusiness to weather all seasons

3. Minimise evaporation through soil

Planting shelter belts of trees protects crops from wind, soil erosion and evaporation by up to 30%. Reduce wind surface speeds and soil temperatures by mulching and shallow tilling.


If you’d like to invest in water retention tanks, or smarter irrigation systems that use less water, why not talk to our Agribusiness experts about possible finance solutions.

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