By Skylar Schneider, Executive Assistant, National Farmers Union

Climate change presents a multitude of challenges for farmers, as extreme temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns can negatively impact crops. In order to prepare for these extreme conditions, such as drought, farmers can adopt energy-conserving practices.

For example, water is a valuable natural resource that is absolutely vital for agriculture. In fact, approximately 80 percent of our country’s water is used for agricultural purposes. One way farmers can adapt to more extreme conditions resulting from climate change is by practicing irrigation water management, in which the volume, frequency and application rate of irrigation water is determined and carried out in a planned, efficient manner. In addition to conserving energy, this practice is important for: minimizing irrigation-induced soil erosion; optimizing water use; decreasing pollution of surface and groundwater resources; proper and safe chemigation or fertigation; and improved air quality.

The goal of irrigation water management is to apply water with increased precision while reducing unnecessary applications. There are various ways by which to achieve this. For example, water can be conserved by decreasing the water pressure of sprinkler irrigation systems. For farmers who use diesel-powered irrigation pumps, upgrading the diesel engines and pumps to newer, energy-efficient models would result in lower emissions and fuel consumption. For more detailed information on how to practice irrigation water management, see the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Practice Standard on the subject.

There are many benefits to implementing energy-saving practices such as irrigation water management, in addition to energy conservation. By decreasing energy use, farmers can reduce emissions that negatively impact the environment. Energy conservation practices can also be significant cost-saving measures. According to NRCS, converting medium-pressure and high-pressure irrigation systems to low pressure systems can save up to $15 and $66 per acre, respectively. Switching from old diesel pumps to newer, more energy-efficient diesel pumps could reduce fuel consumption and save approximately $18,000 on 1,000 acres. Nationwide, this would equate to a 27 million gallon reduction in fuel use, or $55 million per year.

While climate change is presenting new challenges to farmers worldwide, there are opportunities to reduce energy and resource consumption, while also saving money.


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