Monsanto targets smarter irrigation to drive 25% water use reduction by 2020

Agricultural giant Monsanto has pledged to increase irrigation water efficiency across its global seed production operations by 25% by 2020 and will report on its progress in meeting this goal.

The company estimates these conservation efforts will result in savings of between 135 – 360 billion litres of water annually. The commitment covers both Monsanto’s owned and leased operations as well as the contract farms that grow seeds for the company’s products.

To reach the goal, Monsanto will expand implementation of drip irrigation systems, which enable water-use efficiency of up to 95%, compared with other systems that range from 50 – 65% efficiency. The company defines water-use efficiency as the percentage of applied water that is actively used by the plant for growth.

The company already has deployed these systems at facilities in water-stressed areas like India, Hawaii and Mexico. Last year it started a data collection exercise on its owned land to track water use, and has since rolled this out onto all of its leased and contracted land.

In 2012, Monsanto’s Latin America North manufacturing group defined a strategy to integrate irrigation technologies in its production fields to better inform grower decisions. The project resulted in significant water conservation gains and yield increases. Drip irrigation decreased water consumption by 50% compared to flood irrigation, while sprinkler irrigation decreased water consumption by 30%. In addition, yields increased by 17%.

According to Monsanto’s vice president of global supply chain Bob Reiter, modern irrigation technology and precision farming best practices offer a huge opportunity to make significant inroads. “We have been working to test and promote implementation of water-efficient technologies for years, and these efforts will [now] be accelerated,” he said.

Another approach the company is taking is to reuse washing water to reduce fresh water usage in seed processing. It has built an on-site advanced water tank reservoir system at its manufacturing facility in Mojokerto, Indonesia, to retain this washing water.

Previously water usage at the facility was 21.5 (US) litre/kilogram seed sales unit (KSSU). With the implementation of the reservoir system, water usage is now 4.9 (US) litre/KSSU, equivalent to a 77% water saving.

Last month Monsanto became a signatory to the UN CEO Water Mandate, a programme to develop strategies and solutions to the emerging global water crisis. The mandate seeks to address six key areas: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

Maxine Perella

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