Water is not only essential to everyday life, it is also crucial in maintaining our thriving agricultural industry. Extreme weather patterns are fast becoming the new normal with water shortages reaching critical levels last summer. A prolonged drought led to the introduction of water restrictions across many of our farming regions to avoid putting more supplies at risk.
In order to prepare for increasingly unpredictable weather, there is an urgent need to manage water more effectively and sustainably. We want to support the farming community to conserve water and help make the necessary changes to protect the local water supply to farms and livestock while reducing your water bills.
Detecting and repairing leaks
Check your water meters, including remote ones, on a regular basis to help find and fix leaks on your farm. Do an overnight test using your meter when little or no water is being consumed. If the night usage is unusually high or the counter is still running when everything is turned off, you may have a leak.
Carry out regular, visual checks along your private pipework on the farm to detect leaks. Inspect the ground above your pipes for visible signs of leaks such as unusually damp ground, lusher than expected vegetation (sign of recent leak) or reduced community / rush vegetation (consequence of a long-term leak).
Suspect a leak on your pipework?
If you think you may have a leak, you can further investigate by shutting off sections of your pipework to assess the change in flow. Wet drains after a period without rain can indicate blockages or water from a leak may be flowing into them.
Take action to conserve water and reduce your bills
Watch out for overflowing drinking troughs as they can waste significant amounts of water. Adjust the ball valves to lower the float or replace faulty parts. Drain and cover troughs when they are not being used during the winter to avoid frost damage.
Running taps and hosepipes
Do not leave taps and hosepipes unattended when running or fit automatic shut-off valves. The higher the water pressure, the more water is wasted when a leak develops. Where possible, use control valves at strategic points across your water pipework.
Dripping taps and hosepipes
Fix dripping taps and hosepipes around the farm promptly by replacing washers and repair overflows to avoid water wastage.
Save water when cleaning the yard by using dry-cleaning techniques. Use scrapers and brushes to remove solid waste from yards and pens before hosing. You can also use a small amount of water (e.g. one bucket) to pre-soak waste before cleaning.
Reusing rainwater from the rooves of farm buildings can leed to considerable savings on your water bills. This water can be used for for a variety of activities such as washing down yards and slatted sheds. This water must be further treated if it is to be used as drinking water for livestock or irrigation of horticultural crops. It must also be treated if it is to be used to wash milking parlours as this water needs to be of potable standard.
Clean plate cooler water
If you own a dairy farm, you can divert clean plate cooler water to a tank and use it for parlour washing.
Water your crops efficiently by irrigating at the right time of day, or better still at night, to meet crops needs and reduce losses through evaporation. Make sure you use the correct pump/pipe size and do not irrigate when it is windy. Consider irrigating at night to reduce further loses through evaporation.
Take action to protect your water
Contaminated surface waters
Avoid contamination of surface waters by reducing or stopping access to your livestock by fencing off rivers and streams. Pollution containing animal faeces can affect the water environment, nutrients and soil. Destroyed bankside vegetation can also contribute to flooding.
Be aware of the risk of the Cryptosporidium parasite contaminating your water source. It is very high when animals have direct access to water and can cause severe diarrhoea in humans and animals. To avoid this risk, provide your livestock with alternative drinking sources such as pasture pumps and troughs.
Avoid risk of soiled water runoffs to surface waters when placing troughs. Keep troughs 20m away from boreholes and wells, avoid placing them near fissured limestone and prevent poaching. In addition, establish buffer zones alongside all watercourses during crop production.
Slurry tanks and silage pits
Maintain slurry tanks and ensure adequate storage throughout the closed period, ensure effluent is collected and stored from silage pits and that bales are stored 10m away from a watercourse.
Pesticides and best practice
Be mindful of regulations around the spreading of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, livestock manure, other organic fertilisers and soiled water. Avoid land spreading during prohibited periods, unsuitable weather conditions (e.g. waterlogged, flooded and frozen land) and keep within overall maximum fertilisation rates for nitrogen and phosphorus.
Make sure pesticide/fertiliser stores are secure and located more than 10m away from watercourses and/or drains. Do not apply herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers within 1.5m of waterbodies/watercourse.
Reduce pesticide risks
Follow these simple tips and reduce the risk of pesticide contamination
- Choose the right pesticide product
- Read and follow the product label
- Determine the right amount to purchase and use
- Don’t spray if rain or strong wind is forecast in the next 48 hours
- Make sure you are aware of the location of all nearby water courses
- Comply with any buffer zone specified on the product label to protect the aquatic environment. Mark out the specified buffer zone from the edge of the river or lake or other water course
- Never fill a sprayer directly from a water course or carry out mixing, loading or other handling operations beside a water course
- Avoid spills, stay well back from open drains and rinse empty containers 3 times into the sprayer.
- Store and dispose of pesticides and their containers properly