Research published in the Social Responsibility Journal has found government policy is one of the key impediments to the uptake of more efficient irrigation on farms.
The research, jointly conducted by Charles Darwin University (CDU), Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland, looked at the barriers to innovation in agricultural irrigation practices.
Farming is the largest water consumer and the expansion of food production to meet population growth, and increasing droughts caused by climate change, threatens water security and food production in many countries.
Yet the research found significant barriers to the adoption of innovative practices that could make agricultural production more sustainable and water efficient.
One of the joint authors of the study, CDU Professor of Marketing Steven Greenland, said the adoption of climate smart agriculture practices has been very slow.
“The study found governments and the agricultural sector aren’t fulfilling their social responsibility and sustainability obligations because there is neither the policy settings nor industry leadership to promote climate smart practices,” he said.
Nearly 200 farmers participated in detailed interviews or surveys to identify the barriers to the uptake of drip irrigation, the most water efficient form of irrigation.
Professor Greenland said while farmers recognised the value of water efficiency, this wasn’t the key factor behind decisions about irrigation methods.
“Complex barriers were identified that have resulted in a lower uptake of drip irrigation. These include cost, satisfaction with existing irrigation methods and a low appetite for trying different methods.”
But by far the biggest factor holding back more water efficient irrigation was government policies.
“Government support for alternative, less water-efficient irrigation methods was a critical barrier,” Professor Greenland said.
“Governments at national and state level have invested in improving pre-existing open-channel flood irrigation water delivery and infrastructure rather than promoting and encouraging the adoption of more water efficient irrigation methods.
“For instance, investments such as automated gates and valves that include flow meters has increased the convenience for farmers and their satisfaction with a traditional irrigation method. This lowers the motivation to pursue more water efficient alternatives,” he said.
The research found that to reduce the risks to future food and water security, the agricultural sector and stakeholders such as governments, must prioritise water efficient irrigation.
Professor Greenland said that sustainability does not appear to be the key driver for governments in determining water-related policies.
“Governments have responded to water scarcity challenges by investing in costly and resource-intensive desalination plants, which have a significant environmental impact of their own,” he said.
“It would require a paradigm shift for sustainability to be integrated into government policy on water. The entire food industry should lobby the agricultural sector and governments to encourage this change.
“That includes downstream processors, supermarkets and, ultimately, consumers.
“If consumers demand food produced in a sustainable water efficient manner then supermarkets will be encouraged to source produce produced in this manner – much the same way organic foods found a place in the market,” he said.