water use in agriculture
  • Agricultural practices

Agricultural Water Management With Sustainable Methods

Agriculture is the most water-intensive industry and one of the largest polluters of water supplies. Water management in agriculture is critical, as it directly impacts crop yield, ecological viability, and food security.

Now that crop production is increasingly subject to risks due to climate change and growing populations straining aquatic resources, farmers need to adopt smarter practices for sustainable agricultural water use. By leveraging data and technology, precision agriculture removes the guesswork from irrigation. This results in the right-time, right-place, and right-amount water use in agriculture, which boosts crop productivity and prevents resource wastage.

How Is Water Used In Agriculture?

Competition for water brought on by rising temperatures and urbanization poses a threat to intensive agriculture. On a global scale, the agriculture sector uses over half of all freshwater. Despite projections of agricultural production growth of roughly 70% by 2050, a large water share will need to be shifted away from agriculture to satisfy future demand in other sectors .

Already, this emphasizes the importance of sustainable water management in agriculture, with the protection of limited aquatic resources as a primary priority. The current paradigm of agriculture water management encourages sustainable agricultural practices, enhanced resource allocation efficiency, and ecosystem preservation. Therefore, the long-term success of agriculture relies on conformity with this paradigm.

Water Management Practices For Sustainable Agriculture

There are several factors to consider while developing a water management plan: local climate, soil, freshwater availability, crops grown, technological capabilities, and more. Management strategies designed with these factors in mind can ensure sustainable water use and the continued success of agricultural systems.

Precision Irrigation

Precision irrigation leverages technology to moisten crops more efficiently. As opposed to traditional uniform irrigation, precision techniques tailor agricultural use of water based on crop needs and environmental factors. Sprinkler irrigation, in which moisture is sprayed from above, and drip irrigation, in which moisture is delivered directly to the roots, both work well in agriculture to meet the needs of different soil types and crop varieties. Variable-rate irrigation (VRI) further enhances agricultural efficiency by allowing for precise management of watering cycles.

direct root-zone irrigation

Weather forecasts also provide crucial data for irrigation management and dealing with variability in agriculture. The use of software algorithms allows for the processing of weather predictions, on-ground sensor data, and vegetation indices to determine optimal irrigation duration and frequency. This dynamic management approach adjusts agriculture’s water usage based on environmental changes.

An irrigated field can, on average, yield twice as much as a rainfed field, making irrigation ideal for expanding crop selection and increasing agricultural production.

Rainwater Use

The principle behind rainwater use is elegantly simple: capture rainwater during precipitation events and store it for later use, creating a supplementary source of water for agriculture that reduces dependence on external supplies and helps lessen the burden on already overtaxed rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Compared to groundwater or surface water for agricultural use, rainwater has the advantages of being free, widely available, and low in salts and minerals. A good case in point is the widespread installation of agricultural rainwater tanks in Australia, where they are used to sustain animals and irrigate crops despite an ongoing trend of drought .

storing rainwater for agricultural use

Water-Smart Crop Selection

Drought-tolerant and native crop planting, as well as crop rotation, are successful management strategies that help promote sustainable agricultural water usage and minimize the effects of drought on plants and yields. Here’s how each of these practices works towards the purposes of agriculture:

  • Use crop varieties that are specifically bred for their drought tolerance. Such features as deep root systems, reduced moisture loss through transpiration, and the ability to rebound from water-deficit stress allow these cultivars to thrive in arid environments.
  • Plant native crops that have evolved to flourish in the specific climate and soil, making them more likely to withstand drought and lessening your agricultural water use.
  • Rotate crops to make agricultural systems more resistant to abiotic stresses like drought and soil salinity. Crop rotation also enhances groundwater table levels and helps establish a balance between local water security and the needs of agricultural production .
The use of agricultural practices such as cover cropping, mulching, conservation tillage, and improving soil quality all help the soil retain moisture, which in turn promotes healthy plant development and lessens the negative effects of drought and water scarcity.

Wastewater Treatment

Reduced reliance on finite freshwater supplies in agriculture is one benefit of reusing treated wastewater for irrigation. With integrated planning and management, wastewater treatment enables the cyclic use of water in agriculture and decreases pollution from wastewater outflow. Furthermore, large-scale adoption of agricultural wastewater reuse can make farming more resilient to aridity.

Improper wastewater management in agricultural settings can cause soil and groundwater contamination.

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture applied to water management integrates technological advancements with human expertise to make the best use of available aquatic resources. Combining the insights from agricultural mapping and field scouting with GPS and GIS technology offers a multi-dimensional approach to sustainable water management.

In this context, field scouting becomes a vital tool for monitoring and optimizing water use in agriculture. This process involves GIS mapping to visualize variations in soil moisture and plant stress and then placing GPS-coordinated sampling points for scouts. Farmers can also use agricultural GIS information to plan for where and when they will need to irrigate their crops.

EOSDA Crop Monitoring

Offering high-resolution satellite images for fields analytics to monitor crops health remotely!

Smarter Agriculture Water Management With EOSDA Crop Monitoring

Advances in precision farming, remote sensing, and data analytics are providing new tools and technologies to optimize water management in agriculture. Thanks to its site-specific approach and range of cutting-edge tools, EOSDA Crop Monitoring enables farmers to tailor irrigation precisely to agricultural variabilities rather than irrigating uniformly across fields.

Historical Weather And Daily Forecasts

Providing access to meteorological records dating back to 1979 and reliable 14-day weather forecasts, the EOSDA Crop Monitoring platform can serve as an irrigation management guide and an early warning system for severe weather management in agriculture. Data on evapotranspiration, air temperature, sun radiation, and precipitation are just a few of the key indicators for agriculture you’ll find on the platform to help you fine-tune your irrigation activities.


Evapotranspiration is a crucial factor to use when developing irrigation plans. Picture a vineyard owner who, amid of a dry spell, notices that some agricultural areas have significantly higher rates of evaporation loss than others. This information can help adjust the agricultural water use so that the stressed vines get much-needed moisture. Where evapotranspiration rates are lower, however, the vineyard owner may choose to minimize irrigation to prevent root rot and other problems associated with overwatering.

evapotranspiration graph for ag water management
Graph of evapotranspiration, indicating high moisture loss.

Temperature And Precipitation

Agriculture producers can use past temperature and radiation data to determine which crops will thrive in a given area, how long the vegetation period will last, and how extreme and frequent temperature spikes are. Knowing the temperature levels helps farmers conserve water and protect their crops from stress.

EOSDA Crop Monitoring also provides agriculture producers with key data on:

  • Accumulated precipitation, a historical overview of the amount of rain during a specified period, helping spot weather patterns;
  • Daily precipitation, actual readings that allow for the recognition and management of abnormalities such as drought or flooding.

This information is invaluable for making responsible agricultural water management decisions. In particular, you might step up your watering efforts if the Accumulated precipitation data shows that the area of interest has received below-average rain over the past few weeks. Likewise, if you use Daily precipitation for field monitoring, you may quickly adjust your irrigation and drainage management plans to better prepare for water-related disasters.

accumulated and daily precipitation in ag water management practices
The accumulated and daily precipitation readings help fine-tune irrigation to the field`s actual needs.

Soil Moisture

Managers in agriculture can easily assess soil moisture levels from afar using EOSDA Crop Monitoring. Suppose the map on the platform shows that some areas of the wheat field have lower soil moisture than others, possibly due to differences in soil composition or topography. The farmer can use this information to direct more moisture to the dryer areas where it is most needed, avoiding waterlogging and wasting resources in wetter areas. This way, agricultural water management based on soil moisture levels will improve resource allocation, prevent plant stress, and increase agricultural yields.

root zone soil moisture
The root zone soil moisture chart allows for optimizing irrigation management.

NDMI (Normalized Difference Moisture Index)

When applied to precision irrigation, the NDMI index’s capacity to reveal crop water stress levels is invaluable. Take, for example, a wheat farmer who uses EOSDA Crop Monitoring to keep an eye on the NDMI index. According to NDMI readings, uneven moisture distribution causes patches of dryness in wheat fields. With this data at hand, the farmer can adjust the agricultural water use to alleviate drought stress in affected areas and promote uniform wheat growth across the field.

plant stress management with the NDMI index
According to the NDMI index in EOSDA Crop Monitoring, this field has areas of potential drought stress.

Embrace Sustainable Water Management For Thriving Agriculture

With the rising global demand for water, farmers can’t afford to be stuck in their old management practices. In today’s world, embracing sustainable agricultural technologies for land and water management may play a pivotal role in protecting ecosystems, adapting to global warming, and feeding a fast-growing population. Farmers, governments, researchers, and communities should all work together to develop sustainable water use solutions in agriculture that address both environmental concerns and farming realities. By combining farmer training, technological upgrades, and supportive policies, the agriculture sector can lead the way in efficient and equitable water use.

About the author:

Vasyl Cherlinka Scientist at EOS Data Analytics

Vasyl Cherlinka has over 30 years of experience in agronomy and pedology (soil science). He is a Doctor of Biosciences with a specialization in soil science.

Dr. Cherlinka attended the engineering college in Ukraine (1989-1993), went on to deepen his expertise in agrochemistry and agronomy in the Chernivtsi National University in the specialty, “Agrochemistry and soil science”.

In 2001, he successfully defended a thesis, “Substantiation of Agroecological Conformity of Models of Soil Fertility and its Factors to the Requirements of Field Cultures” and obtained the degree of Biosciences Candidate with a special emphasis on soil science from the NSC “Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research named after O.N. Sokolovsky”.

In 2019, Dr. Cherlinka successfully defended a thesis, “Digital Elevation Models in Soil Science: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations and Practical Use” and obtained the Sc.D. in Biosciences with a specialization in soil science.

Vasyl is married, has two children (son and daughter). He has a lifelong passion for sports (he’s a candidate for Master of Sports of Ukraine in powerlifting and has even taken part in Strongman competitions).

Since 2018, Dr. Cherlinka has been advising EOSDA on problems in soil science, agronomy, and agrochemistry.

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