Irrigation is used to bring water to crops from outside sources through pipes, canals, sprinklers, and other man-made means rather than relying on diminishing natural rainfall. Regions with minimal or seasonal rainfall cannot sustain agriculture without irrigation. In regions with irregular rainfall, irrigation is needed to improve crop growth giving farmers the ability to grow food on a consistent schedule, and creating reliable food supplies. Irrigation methods have been documented in a variety of ancient civilizations and without irrigation, modern society as we know it would look very different. Despite the need for irrigation, there are still issues that are known to have a negative environmental impact and accelerate climate change.
Across the globe agriculture accounts for 70% of human freshwater consumption. The majority of that freshwater is allocated to irrigation. Experts predict that to keep the growing population fed, freshwater extraction may increase upwards of 15% or more by 2050. Many of the world’s largest and most productive agricultural regions have become economically dependent on heavy irrigation (Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Modifications).
Farmers and researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of this far-reaching diversion of freshwater from its natural channels. One of the most noticeable consequences is the depletion of the natural bodies of water that feed irrigation systems. These bodies of water can range from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs to ground water that cannot be accessed from land or be replenished (Irrigation). Freshwater extraction causes a variety of environmental issues that alter the landscape, wildlife behavior and weather patterns. This over extraction of freshwater and alteration to natural systems speed up the cycle of desertification, turning fertile farmland turning it into desert landscapes making us more dependent on irrigation.
Over irrigated crops can create soil conditions that poison plant roots through anaerobic decomposition. This increases water evaporation impacting surface air pressure, temperature, and atmospheric moisture conditions. Studies have confirmed that over irrigation of croplands can influence rainfall patterns thousands of miles away. Certain methods of irrigation have been connected to long-term ecological and habitat destruction causing erosion that creates imbalances in natural ecosystems and drains local freshwater resources that all life depend on to survive (Irrigation).
Irrigation methods and technologies have been constantly evolving from the early aqueduct and storage systems in ancient times. Modern irrigation technologies are developing as we begin to recognize the larger environmental impacts of over irrigation, such as flood irrigation. Flood irrigation is an example of over irrigation which causes rapid evaporation and disrupts the interior systems of plants and the natural ecosystem. Farmers and researchers now recognize the effects of over irritation and are developing technologies that are more water efficient and minimize the impact on surrounding natural resources.
At Enduring Harvest, we use the most water efficient method of irrigation to date, Responsive Drip Irrigation. RDI allows us to produce high quality crops while conserving the natural resources in the regions where we develop our regenerative farm projects. We engage with local farming communities providing training for local populations in regenerative farming methods. Regenerative agriculture replenishes soil nutrients, creates healthier plants and conserves precious water resources. To learn more about RDI and Enduring Harvest, visit our website enduringharvest.org or click here.
Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Modifications. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/environmental-impacts-agricultural-modifications
Irrigation. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/irrigation