If you are involved in Agriculture in any way, this article is meant for you. Water is one of the most precious resources that is used in agriculture, and it is a growing concern among industry professionals. Sustained, quality water is needed to supply irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture throughout the country.
Agriculturally rich communities all across the U.S. are experiencing significant increases in the cost of water, and water shortages are becoming more common than what is comfortable. A single day, or even a few hours, without water can be detrimental for the end product.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the state of water use in the United States and open up the door to a new water source that may be the answer to many of the water problems that are arising in the agricultural field today – Rainwater Harvesting.
Water Use in Agriculture
The United States Geological Survey conducts an estimated use of water report every five years, the last report was in 2015. According to the report, agriculture accounts for about 40% of the total water usage in the United States. This amounts to 127.55 billion gallons of water per day used in agriculture. View Report
In accordance with the report, agriculture is split into three categories: Irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture.
“Irrigation water use includes water that is applied by an irrigation system to sustain plant growth in agricultural and horticultural practices. In addition to the irrigation of crops, irrigation of golf courses, parks, nurseries, turf farms, cemeteries, and other self-supplied landscape-watering uses are included in the estimates. Irrigation also includes water that is used for other related processes, including pre-growing season application, frost protection, chemical application, weed control, field preparation, crop cooling, harvesting, dust suppression, and leaching salts from the root zone”
Irrigation accounts for the largest segment in agricultural water use. Out of the 127.55 billion gallons per day, irrigation accounts for 118 billion gallons per day. Irrigation use is divided rather evenly between surface water and groundwater supply with 52% coming from surface water and 48% from groundwater. Excluding thermoelectric power, irrigation use water amounts to 62% of total freshwater use in all the United States.
“Livestock water use is water associated with livestock watering, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs. Livestock includes dairy cows and heifers, beef cattle and calves, sheep and lambs, goats, hogs and pigs, horses, and poultry. Other livestock water uses include cooling of facilities for the animals and products, dairy sanitation and wash down of facilities, animal waste-disposal systems, and incidental water losses. All withdrawals were considered freshwater and self-supplied. The livestock category excludes on-farm domestic use, lawn and garden watering, and irrigation water use”
Livestock requires much less water per day than irrigation, but seemingly just as important. Roughly 2 billion gallons of water is used for livestock per day. Interestingly, groundwater is the primary water supply for livestock, coming in at 62%, while the remaining 38% comes from surface water sources.
“Aquaculture water use is water associated with raising organisms that live in water, such as finfish and shellfish, for food, restoration, conservation, or sport. Aquaculture production occurs under controlled feeding, sanitation, and harvesting procedures primarily in ponds, flow-through raceways, and, to a lesser extent, cages, net pens, and closed-recirculation tanks. All aquaculture withdrawals were considered self-supplied.”
Aquaculture accounts for about 7.55 billion gallons of water per day in the U.S. 79% of that is supplied by surface water sources, and the remaining 21% is groundwater supplied.
Rainwater Harvesting in Agriculture
Rainwater harvesting for agriculture use is here. Water use can, in some cases, be 100% augmented by captured rainwater for agriculture purposes. (Automated backup to a secondary source is easily obtainable and recommended) Rainwater is free. It is owned by the landowner of the land on which it falls. The full potential of harvested rainwater has not even touched the surface.
Why Rainwater Harvesting?
The benefits of agricultural rainwater harvesting are increasing every day. See listed below.
Water Cost – A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2017 reports an escalation in water rates across the U.S. It is becoming more common to see water rates exceed $7.00 per thousand gallons. Which is overcomeable for household use, but when dealing with millions of gallons of water per year on poultry or cattle farm, for instance, this can become a problem.
Water Cost vs. Rainwater Harvesting – Rainwater is free. ROI with a rainwater harvesting system for agriculture use is a calculable guarantee.
Water Availability – While this point is targeted at well water users, even municipalities have water shortages. High-number farms cannot afford outages or even cutbacks on water usage.
Water Availability vs. Rainwater Harvesting – Using 100-year rainfall data, our engineers are able to give a detailed water supply calculation. You can know almost exactly how much water the rainwater harvesting system will augment, and in some cases, that will be 100%, but more commonly 85%-95%.
Water Quality – Poor water quality can cause numerous problems for farms and water supply. Not only does poor quality water affect the water itself, but also can damage cooling systems, waterers, sprayers, sprinklers, and more. Low-quality water must be corrected with treatment equipment which must be maintained to prevent further damage.
Water Quality vs. Rainwater Harvesting – As rainwater is falling from the sky, it is the purest water that is naturally found. Having just exited nature’s distiller, it is free of many contaminants that flood surface and groundwater supply’s. When directed through the correct system, it requires minimal filtration to produce clean, safe, high-quality water. Rainwater is naturally soft and therefore will not clog up equipment or produce scale buildup.
National Poultry Technology Center
We spoke with Gene Simpson, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Director of the National Poultry Technology Center, about the benefits of rainwater harvesting and why it makes sense to use it for agricultural purposes, he stated:
“Are your municipal water rates around $7.00 per 1,000 gallons of water or higher?
Are your municipal water rates expected to increase to $7.00 or more per 1,000 gallons?
Is your well water quantity limited or restricted?
Is your well water quality inferior with respect to birds and evaporative cooling system?
A Rainwater Harvesting System may be very appropriate and cost-effective for your poultry farm.”
Case Study – Freebird Farms, AL (Poultry Farm)
Here is an overview of an agricultural rainwater harvesting system from Rainwater Resources.
The poultry farm consisted of four 50′ x 500′ houses. Rainwater was collected from each house and diverted into a 100,000-gallon water storage bladder. Complete with proper conveyance, pre-filtration, overflow, venting, storage, control center, pumps and filtration skid, and an automated backup to a secondary supply.
The average annual rainfall in this area of Alabama was estimated at 48 inches. With design calculations, this farm is estimated to yield 2,691,360 gallons of water per year. Every inch of rainfall collecting roughly 60,000 gallons of water.
Rainwater Resources™ UltraAg™ control center monitors all water usage by the minute – both municipal and rainwater. For the year 2017, harvested rainwater augmented 92% of the total water demand of the farm.
Ultra-Ag™ by Rainwater Resources™
We are committed to providing quality rainwater harvesting systems that will execute the objective of providing quality water for agricultural applications. Our UltraAg system has been tested, used, and is currently providing water as the primary source in agriculture applications in the United States.
Our team of rainwater harvesting experts and engineers work to make sure each system will function properly and meet the needs of the owner.
Want to learn more about rainwater harvesting for agricultural applications? Contact our team.