European Commission gets serious about sustainable water use in agriculture

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this. Windmills, Holland: across the European Union, around 44 percent of total water use – up to 80 percent in some regions – can be attributed to agricultural activities.

Water is crucial to food production and, across the European Union, around 44 percent of total water use – up to 80 percent in some regions – can be attributed to agricultural activities.

Now, with climate change and a growing population, across the EU and globally, pressure on this precious natural resource is increasing.

Cognisant of future challenges, the European Commission has committed to implementing short and long term actions to improve water usage in agriculture.

“Farming and food production are water-intensive industries, so if we want to meet the global demand for more and better food, we need to continue to develop production systems and technologies to make agriculture more productive and efficient, but also greener and more resource-efficient,” noted EC Commissioner Phil Hogan at a European Policy Centre water and agriculture event on 28 September 2017.

Almond orchard, Spain: The European Commission has committed to implementing short- and long-term actions to improve water usage in agriculture across Europe.
Almond orchard, Spain: The European Commission has committed to implementing short- and long-term actions to improve water usage in agriculture across Europe.
Steve Wilson, Flickr CC

Common agricultural policy: cross-compliance

Already, the EC's department of agriculture and rural development is influencing agricultural water usage through its ‘common agricultural policy’, part of which consists of a cross-compliance mechanism that makes direct payments to farmers contingent on their compliance with basic standards regarding:

  • consideration of the environment;
  • food safety;
  • plant and animal health;
  • animal welfare; and
  • land and environment management and maintenance.

The cross-compliance mechanism establishes a baseline for agri-environment measures, which encourages farmers to use water more sustainably.

Dairy cows grazing on coastal farmland, New Brunswick: EAFRD-backed rural development programs are helping farmers across Europe use water more efficiently.
Dairy cows grazing on coastal farmland, New Brunswick: EAFRD-backed rural development programs are helping farmers across Europe use water more efficiently.
Grant MacDonald, Flickr CC

Greening measures

Part of the direct payments to Europe’s farmers depend on them implementing what are known as ‘greening measures’, such as establishing ‘ecological focus areas’ and tracts of permanent grassland. The idea is that exercising these measures helps protect biodiversity – and water sources – in part by restricting pesticide use in those areas.

Further encouragement for sustainable water use in agriculture comes via rural development programs. Funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and managed by the various EU member statesthe programs are designed around six priorities, one of these being the ‘promotion of resource efficiency’.

Rural development programs such as these "can do important work to support environment and climate action, Water Framework Directive-targeted measures, knowledge transfer, and especially investment support", Commissioner Hogan noted in his conference speech, also praising other EU research and innovation funds, such as Horizon2020, which supports projects employing innovative technologies to improve water supply.

"We have invested in new technologies such as robots measuring water consumption in wine production, 3-D sensors to measure plant growth, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for precision agriculture applications such as water stress monitoring, detection of nutrient deficiencies and crop diseases," Hogan said.

Windmills at Kinderdijk, Holland: Building on the work of the EC's task force on water, a ‘knowledge hub’ for water use in agriculture is being established, and should be fully operational by the end of 2018.
Windmills at Kinderdijk, Holland: Building on the work of the EC's task force on water, a ‘knowledge hub’ for water use in agriculture is being established, and should be fully operational by the end of 2018.
KK Marais, Flickr CC

Knowledge hub for water use 

In February 2017, Commissioner Hogan and Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced the establishment of a task force on water. The task force’s goal was to increase investment in, and spread best practices around, improving water sustainability in agriculture across Europe.

Building on the work of this task force, a ‘knowledge hub’ for water use in agriculture is being established, and should be fully operational by the end of 2018.

"This knowledge hub will link and integrate existing sources of information and generate new knowledge as well,” Commissioner Hogan explained.

“The information will be widely accessible via an internet portal. It can therefore be used by the Commission, by member states' administration, as well as by stakeholders to identify the most pressing problems in order to develop targeted and tailor-made policy tools offering solutions in the field of water and agriculture."

Hogan also flagged the establishment of a new platform for on-farm nutrient management that will be directly accessible to farmers, supporting informed decisions on nutrient requirements, contending that this platform will likely "have the positive knock-on effects of boosting water-use efficiency and emissions reduction".

Source: Horti Daily

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