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How AgTech is Advancing Water Sustainability Globally

Water stewardship is essential to creating a sustainable future for the world’s rapidly growing population, and the agriculture sector is playing a central role. Food production currently consumes about 70% of our planet’s accessible freshwater, while alarmingly, 40% of agricultural water use relies on unsustainable groundwater extraction.

With natural water resources dwindling and unpredictable, dynamic weather shifts affecting long-standing growing practices, farmers around the globe are facing dual–and dueling–challenges of expanding production while minimizing water use. A Dartmouth-led study, published in Earth’s Future journal and summarized in this Seedworld article, found that in the least disruptive climate scenario, yields of irrigated crops such as corn, wheat, and soy decreased by 6% when groundwater use was reduced to meet sustainable recharge levels. In the most dramatic climate change scenario studied, the reduction in yield increased to 45%, which would be disastrous not only to U.S. agricultural productivity but also to the global food supply at large.

Fortunately, leading businesses are heeding the call for responsible water management to support our collective future. For example, Google’s water stewardship commitment, which includes a pledge to replenish “more water than we consume by 2030 and support water security in communities where we operate,” translates to approximately 120% water replenishment across its offices and data centers. Bayer recently reported savings of more than 1.08 billion liters of water in year one of their new tech-enabled CARLOTA service. In addition, Forbes predicts that water stewardship will be one of the biggest food trends of 2024.

A Solution at the Intersection of Agronomy and Technology

How can we achieve groundwater sustainability without throwing the global food supply into a tailspin?

Dartmouth study co-author Jonathan Winter points to some solutions that have been proven to help achieve sustainability without dramatic crop yield reduction: “Improved irrigation technology, more water-efficient crops, and better agricultural water management could reduce the production losses.” Citing another study on irrigation adaptation strategies, Winter writes, “Perhaps the most striking result is that most of the irrigation reductions came from improving irrigation water use efficiency. Modeling studies show that optimizing irrigation based on growth stage-specific soil moisture thresholds can significantly improve irrigation water use efficiency.”

In-field monitoring technology, such as Arable’s crop intelligence system, helps farmers maximize precision in irrigation by providing accurate, comprehensive data on environmental conditions as well as soil moisture, plant growth stages, and irrigation monitoring. This type of technology is being adopted across a broad spectrum of agriculture to drive water conservation. At Arable, we’ve seen examples ranging from individual growers transforming their irrigation practices, to local communities collaborating to protect their regional resources, to entire industries investing to drive sustainability through their supply chains.

Midwest Producer Delivers Big Water Savings with Small Irrigation Changes

In 2023, a large corn and soybean producer in the midwest region of the United States used Arable’s in-field monitoring technology to inform daily irrigation decisions for 27 fields spanning 3,500 acres. By collecting real-time data on each field’s growth stage, soil moisture levels, crop-level evapotranspiration, and other variables, the system provided a highly accurate picture of how much water the crops received through rainfall and how much more water, if any, they needed for healthy growth. Armed with this information, the producer was able to reduce irrigation by 22% over the prior year (adjusted for weather differences), saving 330 million gallons of water during a single growing season.

California Winegrowers Turn to Tech to Protect Scarce Water Resources

In the California wine industry, sustainable practices such as water optimization are critical to ensuring that vineyards remain healthy and productive for generations to come. Vintners are increasingly relying on digital tools to inform more accurate decisions that support their water stewardship goals.

One example is Clos du Val, a renowned Napa Valley winery whose viticulture manager, Ryan Decker, was looking for ways to refine the vineyard’s irrigation strategy and optimize water use. Arable’s in-field monitoring system revealed that certain vineyard blocks retained water deep within the soil profile. These insights prompted Ryan to shift his strategy. Instead of continuing with deep wateringthereby further saturating the lower profileRyan now opts for a surface-level irrigation approach in those blocks, reducing water use and increasing the quality and yield of the fruit.

Learn how Clos du Val is optimizing irrigation and boosting efficiency with Arable’s in-field monitoring system.

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Industry Leader Promotes Use of Tech to Fuel Sustainability Through Sugarcane Supply Chain

Brazil is the world’s leading sugarcane producer, but its production is threatened by climate instability which has affected the efficient production of sugarcane across the country. In recent years, the top sugarcane producers and millers have been periodically paralyzed by drought. To affect change, Pulse Innovation Hub, the open innovation hub of Raízen, a comprehensive energy company and leader in biofuels, partnered with Arable to jointly launch a digital agriculture project called “Monitoring network for efficient use of water and pesticides in sugarcane production.”

The Arable Mark in sugarcane in Brazil.

Supported by the Bonsucro Impact Fund, the joint project brings together agricultural experts and digital innovation leaders with the goal of increasing the sustainable production of sugarcane through the use of digital crop intelligence tools. By using data from in-field sensors and analytics, farmers can align their irrigation schedules with weather patterns, reducing water usage and increasing crop resilience to drought. More than 300+ suppliers representing approximately 80% of the volume of sugarcane acquired by Raizen are part of the project. Insights gleaned from the project will inform the entire country’s efforts to standardize better water management and stewardship.

Together We Can Build a Better Tomorrow

As we reflect on the importance of water sustainability, it’s clear that to effect change on a global scale action is needed at multiple levels of the agriculture industry. Everyone–from individual producers to global agribusinesses, technology providers, industry associations, and even local and country-level government organizations–has a role to play. In addition, technology needs to be widely available, trusted, and adopted. Digital tools that enable real and measurable changes in farming practices are central to attaining our collective goal of sustainable water resources.

Click here to learn more about Arable’s capabilities and contributions to water sustainability.

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