Water use efficiency in food production

The Dutch have always lived in close contact with water; more than 18% of the total surface of the Netherlands consists of water. One would assume that this would resume in a constant struggle with the abundance of water. However because of the density of habitation, around 500 people living on 1 square kilometre (2014), the Netherlands is constantly working on efficient water use.

Water use efficiency in food production

Irrigation Systems

Rainfall is the main source of water for the agricultural sector in the Netherlands. In the summer months rainfall alone is not sufficient and has to be supplemented by surface water and groundwater. Using groundwater for irrigation is not a sustainable solution in the long run. In many places more water is subtracted from groundwater reservoirs or aquifers than is replenished, resulting in the depletion of groundwater as water resource. Intensification of agriculture and an ever growing demand of water have also contributed to the need to innovate in water supply techniques. There are several companies, projects and knowledge institutes doing research in the possibilities and costs of advanced irrigation systems in Dutch agriculture.

IRRIGATION SYSTEMSIrrigation is used in open agriculture in the summer months and in horticulture the whole year. The most common type of irrigation in the Netherlands is overhead sprinkler irrigation but pivot irrigation is also used. Especially horticulture specializes in precision irrigation where they use drip irrigation, sometimes submerged systems, through which plants receive water close to the roots drop per drop. Subsurface drip irrigation systems are very efficient in the application of water, have very little evaporation losses, can apply fertilizers in custom amounts and are low on maintenance since they are not exposed to climatic influences.

Many Dutch companies have specialized themselves in developing efficient irrigation systems. Not only by experience on own soil but also through many years of working together with NGO’s abroad that have a strong focus on irrigation and integrated water management.

Since the seventies there has been a close collaboration between the Dutch and the Egyptians on water management. A recent project focused on the introduction of advanced irrigation systems that will reduce water usage. Several sustainable irrigation techniques are presented and Egyptian farmers and irrigation managers received training in the application of these techniques.

Water capture and storage

Horticulture depends strongly on captured rainwater for their irrigation since they work with a closed system. Capturing this water for later use can be done either through basins, tanks and underground storage.

  • Water basins are a simple solution for storing large amounts of water with as only limit the available space. Water tanks have the advantage of saving space and the ability to be placed both inside and outside, as well as that several types of water can be stored.
  • Aquifer storage and recovery or other types of subsurface storage have the advantage of saving agricultural land. A large potential storage capacity in the ground can be used quite cost efficient through the infiltration of water in the ground, if the underground soil properties are favourable. While infiltration is a process that happens naturally, recharging aquifers has recently gained popularity both in the Netherlands as well as abroad. Water can be retrieved through pumps and using recharged aquifer water makes groundwater subtraction more sustainable.