Role of water storage tanks in the agricultural industry

Jan 27

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Friday, January 27, 2017  RssIcon

The growth of the Agricultural and Horticulture industry in the UK is dependent on a direct access to water. The primary production of food has a knock on effect on the country’s food processing capacity, jobs and local economics. Crops need clean water and livestock need drinking water combined with the growing competition for mains water supply. Reservoirs and water storage tanks are an option presented to the agricultural industry to use non-mains supply.

Water availability and efficiency in agriculture

In the UK the demand on water supply is increasing due to an expanding population, climate change, extreme floods and periods of drought. There are challenges around the competition between agriculture, industry and domestic for mains water supplies, as well as catchment management coping with too little and too much water.

The UK is generally perceived to be wet; however water availability varies across the country, and over time – in some places and at certain times, water availability is heavily constrained. The demand for water is also compounded by the fact that areas of lowest rainfall are the most populated - the country experiences a gradient of rainfall from west to east England with a similar trend in the population with the South East of England being the most dense.

Water availability has a huge impact on a countries food supply sustainability. Limited rights to water or increasing costs of mains water supplies could lead to produce being sourced from outside the country. Rainwater harvesting is one way of building up resources to yield greater crop capacity.

There is a wide mix of water use on farms from non potable activities such as yard and equipment wash down, sprayer use, slurry flushing, irrigation and some livestock drinking. Water storage tanks and rainwater harvesting from large roof tops offer a more efficient and lower cost alternative to mains supplies, saving the industry money. 

The key findings from a survey published in June 2011 on Water Usage in Agriculture and Horticulture showed trends in water usage, water sources and management practices in the industry as summarised here:

  • Total volume of water used in agriculture (2010) was 184 million m3. 
  • The biggest form of water usage which accounts for 41% of the total was drinking water for livestock. Irrigation accounted for 38%.
  • Use of water on outdoor crops from hose reel varied according to rainfall
  • Mains water is by far the commonest water source for farming (83% of farms) across all activities. Just 2% of farms use water from ponds, lakes or reservoirs.
  • Water sources for irrigation come from surface water and ground water accounting for 52% and 41% of the total volume of irrigation water respectively. 
  • Grazing livestock farms and mixed farms are far more likely (60% and 46% respectively) to use water from rivers/streams or springs than cropping and granivore farms (pigs and poultry).

To make farming more sustainable and reduce the competition for mains water, there is a lot of scope in promoting on farm water storage and the benefits it delivers to farmers. Another option is on-farm reservoir storage. As a consequence, UK farmers are again investing in reservoirs in the drier parts of the country, to secure water supplies for irrigating high value fruit and vegetables. Livestock and crop farmers with a winter-filled reservoirs and water storage tanks have an assured supply for their summer irrigation needs, and the environmental impact of irrigation abstraction is reduced during the summer months when pond liners water resources are most constrained. 

Water storage tanks provide valuable water source

It is possible to reduce the volume of water consumed and there is scope to reduce water losses (e.g. fixing leaks in water tanks by installing a rubber tank liner) and good management (e.g. trigger sprayers when washing down) or recycling water. Rainwater collection in storage tanks may be a viable alternative water source for livestock farms than using mains water. Many livestock farms are located in the western parts of the country which experience the highest rainfall. Rainwater collected off the expansive roof surfaces can be used for washing down and cleaning. 

There is usually adequate space on-farm for the use of above ground water storage tanks and the height of modern agricultural buildings is sufficient to enable rainwater harvesting by gravity. Where tanks are above ground, fitting insulation and frost protection to pipes and pumps close to the tank, is recommended. Covers for the tank are also needed to prevent debris, leaves and access of animals and birds. Covers can be made of the same material as the tank.

Water containment through use of tank liners or rubber pond liners which can be fabricated together to cover t he ground surface in the build of large lakes or reservoirs, will ensure that all efforts to harvest rain are not done in vain.

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