Op-Ed: Drip by drip, water conservation methods in modern agriculture
For more than 30 years, Bayer Crop Science has been a proud member of the Puerto Rican agricultural biotechnology industry. Our operations on the island consist of advanced breeding research and development of soy and cotton seeds with superior genes.
We also pride ourselves on three decades of processes adhering to sustainable and environmentally friendly procedures.
A common element in all agricultural operations — both in our research and conventional agriculture — is water as an essential resource in the said operation’s success. Our “blue planet” has 75% of its surface covered with water.
However, only 2% of water worldwide is freshwater and suitable for human consumption. Also, up to 70% of that 2% is employed to support agricultural enterprises worldwide.
Faced with this reality, we at Bayer have tapped into our position and resources as an industry leader to do our part to protect all our water sources. Allow us to share our initiatives to best use and conserve this vital natural resource.
Since 2015, the Bayer Crop Science Puerto Rico site has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on their water retention ponds and filtration program to improve the Southern Aquifer. This vital water source in southern Puerto Rico, for both residents and farming operations, has been long affected by excess extraction and drought.
Bayer designed, financed, and constructed a waterway system that collects run-off water from our fields in ponds. These return water to the aquifer by filtration, recharging this water source. We remain committed to collaborating in protecting and restoring this critical natural resource in our community.
In 2018, Bayer inaugurated a smart greenhouse at the Puerto Rico site as the result of a $20 million investment and the company’s commitment to continue to grow and invest in Puerto Rico. The new smart greenhouse features climate control technology to regulate the temperature and light, retractable ceiling shades, irrigation, and pest control applications.
This technology collects data on how these environmental conditions perform and even helps create new environmental conditions as we continue to learn from the data. From our learnings, Bayer has moved from scheduled and manual aerial irrigation to drip irrigation based on a sensor-based humidity monitoring process, therefore increasing water efficiency to up to 90%.
Also, the greenhouse does not waste any of the water used. Water for maintenance and cleaning is collected in a tank, pumped to the farms, and reused for other purposes, such as irrigating host areas for beneficial insects and cover crops.
For years, our field operations have employed drip irrigation systems to ensure our crops get the water they need, where they need it, and when they need it. Our teams have continuously improved these systems, making sure that all the water is used efficiently.
Irrigation teams scout the fields with time-domain reflectometry moisture sensors, collecting data to ensure we only water when needed. Variable Frequency Drive systems at our water pumps help us extract only the amount of water we need, increasing efficiency to up to 99%.
Research shows that the most significant water loss in open field farming systems is due to the evaporation of water by wind and high temperatures. Alternatively, controlled environment agriculture systems have shown greater efficiency in the use of water. Bayer has implemented shade houses for our crops, which have increased soil humidity retention by 15%.
Aside from water, an essential resource in our operation is our human resources, who are just as committed to our operational goals as our sustainability goals. Our colleagues consistently and periodically organize and participate in beach cleaning efforts in our neighboring communities, doing their part to keep our beaches, oceans, and waterbodies trash-free.
Bayer Crop Science-Puerto Rico is a proud member of the local business community. We are committed to contributing to the island’s economic development, natural resources protection, and community life enhancement quality.