Water use on the farm
All farms and horticultural businesses use water, but knowing how much you use and the associated costs will help you manage it more effectively
- Know how much water you are using
- Work out whether the amount you are using is the right amount or not
- Don't forget the hidden costs to wasting water that also have to be paid for including:
- The energy to pump it
- Treatment of any dirty water produced
- Reduced crop quality from poor water management
- Problems with livestock and movement around the farm due to poaching
Source: The Environment Agency - "How much water can I save?"
- Water flowing through and over your farm can be almost as significant as the food you produce
- Clean water is valuable for irrigation of your crops and drinking water for you and your livestock. Private sources of water can be particularly at risk from your farming practices
- Agricultural pollution can cause harm to aquatic life including fish, water plants, and invertebrates
- Clean water and good quality wildlife habitats attract many people for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and walking which are important for people and the rural economy
- Other rural industries rely on clean water to ensure quality products and adherence to high quality standards
- Localised flooding can cause damage to roads, houses and farmland
Adapted from Natural England "Farming for cleaner water and healthier soil"
- Water for irrigation accounts for 38% of agricultural water usage
- The most predominant water sources for irrigation are surface water (52%) and ground water (41%) of total volume of irrigation water
- In 2010 the irrigated area of outdoor crops and grass decreased by 28% compared to 2005
- In 2010 a total of just over 2,200 holdings irrigated outdoor crops and grass
- The total area irrigated was just over 83,000 ha
- The largest irrigated area in 2010 was main crop potatoes (31.8,000ha) and vegetables for human consumption (20.5,000 ha)
- 80% of farmers use judgment not measurement in deciding when to irrigate
Source - Water Usage in Agriculture and Horticulture, Results from the Farm Business Survey 2009/10 and the Irrigation Survey 2010. Defra and National Statistics
Water use in agriculture and horticulture in the UK
- Agricultural water use accounts for only 1% of England's water usage; however there are regional differences (East of England, 16%)
- The total volume of water used in agriculture is 184million m3
- 2 million m3 of water is lost each year through leakages
- Of the total amount of water being used on farm, only 3% of it is recycled
- Mains water is by far the most common water supply (83% of farms) across all activities
- The average cost of mains water is £1.17 per m3
- The total cost of water accounts for 1% of the total fixed costs
- The South West has the smallest proportion of farms using mains water at 72%
Source- Water Usage in Agriculture and Horticulture, Results from the Farm Business Survey 2009/10 and the Irrigation Survey 2010, Defra and National Statistics
Monitoring water use - what are farmers doing?
To help make decisions on how to become more efficient or what measures to put in place, water use needs to be monitored. For farmers who took part in a recent report looking at resource management on farms it was revealed that monitoring farm water use was carried out by a third of farmers on a regular basis, with 12% always monitoring water use for each enterprise and 19% always collecting rainwater.
Cattle and sheep farmers were more likely to never monitor water use, while one third of horticultural holdings monitored water at enterprise level, nearly three times the average.
Do you know what you are using and where you could save? Are you aware of how R4F could help?
The real cost of water
- Mains water supply costs an average dairy farm £31/cow/year but can rise to £100/cow/year or more on some units. A herd of 200 dairy cows will typically cost a farm £10,000 in mains water use (2011)
- Fixing a dripping tap can save as much as 5000 litres per year
- Untreated leaks and dripping taps can cost a farm between £27 and £1200 a year depending on the flow rate (2011)
- 42,000 hectares of farmland were flooded in England in the summer of 2007, which is estimated to have resulted in a 40% loss in produce and between £7m and £19, worth of damaged crops
Future risks to agriculture
- An increased likelihood of inland flooding from rivers and surface water
- Loss of agricultural land and production
- An estimated 50% increase in water demand for irrigated crops in some parts of the UK by 2050
- Loss of private water supplies affecting farm businesses and domestic needs
To find out more about the potential impacts of climate change on water management read the remainder of the Farming Futures Factsheet
Interested in using water more effectively? Register for a free on-farm visit through Resource Efficiency for Farmers (R4F) to access practical management tips relevant for your farm situation.