Successful Farming - - IRRIGATION INSIDER -

Sus­tain­abil­ity. It’s been a sta­ple of farm life for as long as crops have been grown. The term, which is of­ten de­scribed as “hu­man­ity’s tar­get goal of hu­man-ecosys­tem equi­lib­rium,” has be­come a buzz­word in many busi­nesses to­day. While some cor­po­rate sus­tain­abil­ity pro­grams fo­cus on pub­lic re­la­tions, oth­ers show gen­uine con­cern for nat­u­ral re­sources with the em­pha­sis of­ten on wa­ter.

Levi Strauss, for ex­am­ple, con­ducted a com­pre­hen­sive life cy­cle as­sess­ment and found that one pair of its 501 jeans uses nearly 1,000 gal­lons of wa­ter in its full life cy­cle – from grow­ing cot­ton, through man­u­fac­tur­ing, con­sumer care, and dis­posal. The com­pany be­gan its wa­ter sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gram by fo­cus­ing in­ter­nally, and through a se­ries of in­no­va­tive fin­ish­ing tech­niques, it re­duced wa­ter use in the process by nearly 96%. It also dis­cov­ered nearly 70% of that wa­ter went to­ward cot­ton pro­duc­tion.

“Know­ing that 95% of Levi Strauss prod­ucts are cot­ton­based, this meant reeval­u­at­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of our cot­ton sup­ply and find­ing new so­lu­tions to ad­dress this raw ma­te­rial’s im­pact – from ir­ri­ga­tion and runoff to pes­ti­cides and farmer ed­u­ca­tion,” states the com­pany’s web­site.

bet­ter cot­ton ini­tia­tive

T he so­lu­tion was the Bet­ter Cot­ton Ini­tia­tive (BCI). This global project, co­founded in 2005 by Levi Strauss and oth­ers in the tex­tile in­dus­try, fo­cuses on de­creas­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of cot­ton, im­prov­ing la­bor stan­dards, and in­creas­ing the eco­nomic liveli­hood for farm­ers. It also re­quires that farm­ers use wa­ter ef­fi­ciently and care for its avail­abil­ity. BCI re­ports that in the many coun­tries it op­er­ates in, farm­ers use up to 18% less wa­ter than non-BCI farm­ers in com­pa­ra­ble lo­ca­tions.

“In 2015, we sourced 12% of our to­tal cot­ton through BCI – up from 7% in 2014,” the web­site notes. “By 2020, our goal is to use 100% sus­tain­able cot­ton through sources such as BCI and re­cy­cled cot­ton, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing our to­tal wa­ter foot­print.”

“We count about 70 re­tail and brand mem­bers around the world, in­clud­ing GAP and Nike, who are mem­bers of the ini­tia­tive,” says Scott Exo, USA coun­try man­ager for BCI. “We’re not try­ing to tell farm­ers what they have to do or by what per­cent­age they have to re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion. How­ever, our prin­ci­ples and cri­te­ria do state they have to adopt a wa­ter stew­ard­ship plan to help pro­tect and con­serve lo­cal wa­ter re­sources.”

That in­cludes map­ping wa­ter re­sources, man­ag­ing soil mois­ture, and ap­ply­ing ef­fi­cient ir­ri­ga­tion prac­tices to op­ti­mize wa­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Todd Stra­ley, man­ager of the Quar­ter­way Cot­ton Gin in Plain­view, Texas, and an am­bas­sador for BCI, says mem­bers of the Quar­ter­way Cot­ton Grow­ers don’t have any trou­ble meet­ing the ini­tia­tive’s man­dates.

“We’re in a rapidly de­clin­ing wa­ter table area,” Stra­ley ex­plains. “We’re lim­ited by the High Plains Wa­ter Dis­trict to 18 inches of wa­ter an­nu­ally; but I don’t have any cus­tomers who could reach that 18 inches if they wanted to. Some only have enough well ca­pac­ity to pump 10 to 12 inches an­nu­ally. We have to use wa­ter as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble.”

Con­se­quently, he has helped many of his cus­tomers adopt low en­ergy pre­ci­sion ap­pli­ca­tion (LEPA) sys­tems, in­clud­ing bub­blers that op­er­ate at low pres­sures rang­ing from 6 to 20 psi. These sys­tems also de­liver at least 20% more wa­ter to the soil than con­ven­tional spray noz­zles.

“Some grow­ers have also in­stalled drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems,” Stra­ley adds. “Drip can cost around $1,200 per acre to in­stall, but through govern­ment cost-shar­ing pro­grams, they can get that down to about $600.”

Drag hoses work well, too, he notes, re­fer­ring to the emit­ter hoses that re­place the noz­zles on a cen­ter pivot. Dragged be­hind the pivot, they de­liver ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter di­rectly to the soil sur­face.

“Un­for­tu­nately, En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity In­cen­tives Pro­gram (EQIP) will not yet cost-share on drag hoses like they will drip ir­ri­ga­tion and LEPA,” says Stra­ley. “Whether it’s drag hoses or bub­blers, the key is to de­liver wa­ter in the fur­row and get it as deep as you can as fast as you can. The closer it is to the soil sur­face, the more likely it is for some of it to evap­o­rate.”

sus­tain­able farm­ing ini­tia­tive

P ep­siCo, which sources ev­ery­thing from po­ta­toes to oranges and corn syrup, has also launched its own sus­tain­able farm­ing ini­tia­tive. Its goals are to sus­tain­ably source di­rect agri­cul­tural raw ma­te­ri­als by 2020 and to source nondi­rect ma­jor agri­cul­tural raw ma­te­rial in­gre­di­ents by 2025. That in­cludes im­prov­ing the wa­ter-use ef­fi­ciency of its di­rect ag sup­ply chain by 15% in high wa­ter-risk sourc­ing ar­eas. One way it’s done that is by part­ner­ing with groups like The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy.

A re­cip­i­ent of this part­ner­ship is Hauser and Hauser Farms, the largest multi­gen­er­a­tional op­er­a­tion in Ari­zona’s Verde and Salt River wa­ter­shed. Both rivers are part of the Colorado River sys­tem, which is the pri­mary source of wa­ter across the South­west in­clud­ing Pepsi bot­tling plants in the Phoenix area.

“The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy helped us put in au­to­mated head gates with mo­tors at sev­eral lo­ca­tions on the ir­ri­ga­tion ditch and on a pond,” says Zach Hauser, part of the farm’s third gen­er­a­tion. “This al­lows us to con­trol the open­ing on each gate with a smart phone. It also put gauges through­out the ditch sys­tem so we know ex­actly how many cu­bic feet are mov­ing through the ditch. Any wa­ter not used is re­turned back to the river.”

The non­profit also helped con­vert sev­eral fields from flood to drip ir­ri­ga­tion and pro­vided the re­sources to in­stall a mi­crosprin­kler at the base of each tree in the farm’s 35-acre pe­can or­chard.

“We don’t re­ally have a way to quan­tify wa­ter sav­ings, but I would es­ti­mate we’re us­ing about half of what we once were. As a re­sult, we’re con­vert­ing more acres to drip or mi­crosprin­klers each year,” Hauser says.

In ad­di­tion, The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy as­sisted an area group in open­ing Ari­zona’s first malt house, which has helped pro­duc­ers not only max­i­mize rev­enue from bar­ley but also re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion.

“Due to the new mar­ket, we switched some corn and al­falfa fields to bar­ley,” Hauser says. “We can sell the malt house our bar­ley at a good price. It also means more wa­ter goes back to the river. Un­like corn and al­falfa, which re­quire wa­ter all sum­mer, we’re done ir­ri­gat­ing bar­ley by the end of May.”

ini­ti­at­ing change

W ard Nee­son, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for Wysocki Fam­ily of Com­pa­nies in Ban­croft, Wis­con­sin, says his em­ployer has not yet been asked to re­duce wa­ter use, even though it sup­plies po­ta­toes to a ma­jor snack food com­pany. How­ever, its agro­nomic staff has been in­volved in a num­ber of re­search com­mit­tees where this topic is ac­tively dis­cussed.

“The prob­lem with stip­u­lat­ing a per­cent­age re­duc­tion is there are so many vari­ables from year to year,” says Nee­son. “Still, I be­lieve there will come a day when large re­tail­ers and end users will say they want you to use X amount less wa­ter or to demon­strate you are us­ing the min­i­mal amount needed to grow a crop.”

Yet, Wysocki Farms has al­ready taken the ini­tia­tive, if for no other rea­son than to save money and re­duce in­put costs. Scout­ing teams check fields two to three times a week, prob­ing the soil to mea­sure mois­ture and mon­i­tor­ing canopy cover.

“We’re also fol­low­ing re­search fo­cused on learn­ing at what point in the crop’s growth you can stress the plant with­out af­fect­ing yield,” Nee­son says. “Fi­nally, we’re a heavy user of tech­nol­ogy,” not­ing that its lat­est fore­cast­ing tool com­bines data col­lec­tion with an­a­lyt­i­cal soft­ware to pro­vide ir­ri­ga­tion rec­om­men­da­tions at each stage of plants’ growth.

“In fact, we were part of the pilot pro­gram for Field­NET Ad­vi­sor and are mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to have all 300 of our potato fields on the pro­gram,” he says.

“Whether it’s drag hoses or bub­blers, the key is to de­liver wa­ter in the fur­row and get it as deep as you can as fast as you can.” – Todd Stra­ley

The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy aided in open­ing Ari­zona’s first malt house, which has helped Zach Hauser max­i­mize rev­enue from bar­ley as well as re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion.

Hauser and Hauser Farms con­verted some of its corn and al­falfa acres to bar­ley be­cause it made sense eco­nom­i­cally, says Zach Hauser.

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