Advances in Crop and Soil Sciences for Water Efficiency
Advances in crop science, led by companies like DSM-Firmenich and Novozymes, are at the forefront, are leading to the development of genetically edited crops that demand less water and exhibit greater drought resistance. While drought resistance has been the focus until recently, these companies are now developing crops that are modified to thrive in saline or otherwise non-arable soils, expanding the usable agricultural land base. These scientific achievements in plant biology not only help in reducing the agricultural water footprint but also bolster food security and availability in an increasingly unpredictable climate.
Soil science, too, plays a pivotal role. By enhancing soil’s inherent organic matter and structure, scientists are finding ways to increase, for example, the water-holding capacity of certain soils, which can significantly diminish the need for irrigation. Practices like no-till farming, cover crops and crop rotation are part of land-based agriculture, which maintains and improves soil health, reducing erosion and improving water retention.
The Argument for Abundance
As we confront the limitations of water in agriculture, a shift in focus from scarcity to potential abundance is worth thinking about. Desalination, enhanced by the work of companies like Eurofins Scientific in developing eco-friendly processes, stands as a beacon of hope for water abundance, particularly for arid regions and coastal communities. Technological advancements have significantly reduced the cost of desalination, making it a viable option for supplementing agricultural water needs. The key lies in harnessing renewable energy sources to power desalination plants; solar and wind energy are paving the way for eco-friendly and cost-effective desalination processes and the costs are significantly cheaper today than 10 years ago, even 5 years ago. With unlimited seawater as a resource, desalination has the potential to create a consistent and controlled supply of water, insulated from the variability of climate change.
Additionally, purifying and repurposing wastewater for irrigation not only mitigates the draw on freshwater but also enriches soil with nutrients from the treated water. The integration of such systems can transform waste into a valuable asset for agriculture.
Advances in energy efficiency are also instrumental in making water use in agriculture more sustainable. Energy-efficient pumping and conveyance systems minimise the carbon footprint of water distribution, while also reducing costs. The adoption of solar-powered irrigation can lead to an abundant water supply by leveraging the most plentiful energy source—the sun—for water extraction and irrigation.
Achieving water abundance demands a paradigm shift in how we manage and value this essential resource. Investments in infrastructure, research into new water sources and policies that support sustainable practices are all fundamental to turning the vision into a reality. A synergy of these approaches—desalination, wastewater reuse and energy-efficient technologies—heralds a future where water scarcity is not necessarily an inevitability.
However, technological potential can only be realised through systemic solutions that also align policy, governance and societal values.