4 ways to get more crop per drop – saving water on the farm

Climate and weather are intrinsically linked with day to day life as a farmer. Whether it be short term weather events, a sudden rainfall when harvesting or high winds when the maize has grown tall. Or longer-term climate variations such as the wet season and dry season – these seasons guide longer term planting, growing and harvesting patterns.

We are all aware of how the climate is changing, you can no longer ‘set your watch’ by the rains, smallholder farmers especially are having to learn to live with, adapt to and where possible mitigate the impacts of this unpredictability on their farms.

Short term weather events are also becoming more extreme, a rain shower turning to flood, sunny days turning to drought. This is a huge challenge to smallholder farmers. Rather than knowing to plant seeds just before the rains come, planting seed is an increasingly risky gamble. What if the rains don’t come? What if too much rain comes? Will there be enough water for the whole season?

Here are just a few tips on harnessing the weather or mitigating against the inevitable to reduce the risk to your farm.

1. Save rain

A rainwater harvesting set up on a smallholder farm in Kenya

With rainfall events becoming less predictable, it is important to harvest the resource while you can. There are several ways to do this. You could set up a container for water collection, such as a barrel. Place the barrel up on bricks with a tap at the bottom and position it under a downspout from your house. For more water collection capacity consider using a water tank, surface water pan or pond.

The best thing about rainwater harvesting is that you can adapt your system to suit your needs and the needs of the farm.

Zai pits dug around cucumber plants

In-situ rainwater harvesting, capturing rainwater where it falls on the farm, is also a clever technique. Zai pits are micro-catchments for rain where you excavate the ground around the plant. They prevent water running straight off the surface, water can accumulate, and plants have a greater opportunity to use the water.

2. Use windbreaks

A hedge on a farm acting as a windbreak

Another weather feature which could be impacting on your plants getting the water they need is wind. The wind blowing straight across your farm can not only damage your tall growing crops and cause surface soil erosion but can dry out the topsoil too. One way to reduce the impact of wind on your farm and prevent your plants from drying out is to use windbreaks. Windbreaks can be shrubs, hedges and trees grown around your land to disrupt the wind’s path.

The great thing about natural windbreaks are that they also help to increase the biodiversity on your farm, build soil structure and reduce erosion.

3. Grow drought resistant crops

Green maize growing on a farm with a blue sky behind it

Drought resistant crop varieties are becoming more widely available on the market and are something you should look out for. They tend to be more expensive than non-resistant varieties but the payoff of achieving a good harvest can make this money back.

It is also important to consider naturally water efficient crops if you know you are farming in a dry region. Small grain crops like sorghum and millet don’t require a lot of water and can be successfully grown with efficient management.

Other water efficient crops are vegetables like garlic, cowpeas, velvet beans and asparagus. It is worth continuously reviewing and researching the crops which are most suited to your farm.

4. Irrigate

Tomatoes with drip irrigation in a greenhouse

Irrigation, when well-designed, can help control when and how water is applied to your plants. Irrigation can be done manually or by using mechanical irrigation systems.

When considering irrigation, it is important to consider the factors which will allow you to achieve good water coverage efficiently. Monitoring your crops and soils and irrigating at the most efficient times can majorly increase both the yields and quality of produce that your farm generates.

When rain is unpredictable, you want to make sure that you are irrigating in the most efficient way possible.

At Futurepump we are experts in the manufacture of solar irrigation pumps. We want to help smallholder farmers across the world grow crops sustainably all year round. You can find out more about our work and bigger mission across futurepump.com

We are not agronomists, we just want to help you get the most out of your farm sustainably. For more help on looking after farm it is a good idea to speak to an agronomist in your local area who can provide you tailored advice.