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Improving productivity and water use efficiency: A case study of farms in England

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Francisco ArealORCiD


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The idea of Sustainable Intensification comes as a response to the challenge of avoiding resources such as land, water and energy being overexploited while increasing food production for an increasing demand from a growing global population. Sustainable Intensification means that farmers need to simultaneously increase yields and sustainably use limited natural resources, such as water. Within the agricultural sector water has a number of uses including irrigation, spraying, drinking for livestock and washing (vegetables, livestock buildings). In order to achieve Sustainable Intensification measures are needed that enable policy makers and managers to inform them about the relative performance of farms as well as of possible ways to improve such performance. We provide a benchmarking tool to assess water use (relative) efficiency at a farm level, suggest pathways to improve farm level productivity by identifying best practices for reducing excessive use of water for irrigation. Data envelopment analysis techniques including analysis of returns to scale were used to evaluate any excess in agricultural water use of 66 horticulture farms based on different river basin catchments across England. We found that farms in the sample can reduce on average water requirements by 35% to achieve the same output (Gross Margin) when compared to their peers on the frontier. In addition, 47% of the farms operate under increasing returns to scale, indicating that farms will need to develop economies of scale to achieve input cost savings. Regarding the adoption of specific water use efficiency management practices, we found that the use of a decision support tool, recycling water and the installation of trickle/drip/spray lines irrigation system has a positive impact on water use efficiency at a farm level whereas the use of other irrigation systems such as the overhead irrigation system was found to have a negative effect on water use efficiency.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gadanakis Y, Bennett R, Park J, Areal FJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Agricultural Water Management

Year: 2015

Volume: 160

Pages: 22-32

Print publication date: 01/10/2015

Online publication date: 10/07/2015

Acceptance date: 22/06/2015

ISSN (print): 0378-3774

ISSN (electronic): 1873-2283

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.agwat.2015.06.020


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