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Evaluation of the Grey Water Footprint Comparing the Indirect Effects of Different Agricultural Practices

Borsato, Eros, Galindo, Alejandro, Tarolli, Paolo, Sartori, Luigi, Marinello, Francesco
Sustainability 2018 v.10 no.11
agricultural conservation practice, agricultural industry, application rate, climate change, crop rotation, crops, data collection, economic development, environmental factors, fertilizer application, field experimentation, freshwater, greywater, leaching, models, no-tillage, pesticides, soil conservation, soil texture, variable rate application, water footprint, water pollution, water resources, yield mapping, Italy
Increasing global food demand and economic growth result in increasing competition over scarce freshwater resources, worsened by climate change and pollution. The agricultural sector has the largest share in the water footprint of humanity. While most studies focus on estimating water footprints (WFs) of crops through modeling, there are only few experimental field studies. The current work aims to understand the effect of supposedly better agricultural practices, particularly precision agriculture (variable rate application of fertilizers and pesticides) and conservation agriculture (minimum, strip, or no-tillage), on water deterioration and water pollution. We analyzed the results from an experimental field study in the northeast of Italy, in which four different crops are grown across three years of crops rotation. We compared minimum, strip, and no-tillage systems undergoing variable to uniform rate application. Grey WFs are assessed based on a field dataset using yield maps data, soil texture, and crop operations field. Leaching and associated grey WFs are assessed based on application rates and various environmental factors. Yields are measured in the field and recorded in a precision map. The results illustrate how precision agriculture combined with soil conservation tillage systems can reduce the grey water footprint by the 10%. We assessed the grey Water Footprint for all the field operation processes during the three-year crop rotation.