First it was food miles, now it’s the carbon footprint and soon it might be embedded water.
The NZ Farmers Weekly (not on line) warns that virtual or embedded water – the amount used to produce food – could be the next hurdle primary producers have to leap over for export markets.
…this is a natural extension of carbon footprint analysis, only more specific to New Zealand’s pasture and irrigation-based farming systems.
If we thought we were in trouble on our carbon footprint, consider what the bean-counters might make of our water use. It’s questionable how well placed New Zealand would be, for instance, if European Union food officials started routinely asking for an audit of our water use from farm to shipment or flight.
The push for livestock traceability would pale in comparison.
Fortunately judging by a Crop and Food Research project announced last week, agricultural scientists seem to have seen the threat coming. The Crown Reserach Institute aims to develop plants with much-imporved root systems that require less water, pesticides and fertiliser, enabling New Zealand to compete strongly in overseas markets where consumers are increasingly demanding “green” food products.
This project tagged “roots for sustainability” seems a natural response to farmer demands for cheaper and longer-lasting plant growth – and better profitability. But like so many forms of farming innovation, it can also be seen as a response to changing political and social trends.
Mainstream awareness of embedded water is unlikely to be far away and NZ would be in the spotlight because of its growing dependence on man-made irrigation schemes.
When the world is short of food there will be something amiss if we are penalised for using innovative techniques which boost production providing we use them efficiently and sustainably.
Hopefully Crop and Food research is correct in asserting that its project … will see more effective water, nutrient and pesticide use, with reduced nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions.
All of which have environmental and economic benefits.
To alternatively do little is to allow the concept of embedded water to leak into people’s way of thinking and for farmers’ reputations to again take a battering. If this latest environmental concept indeed sticks between people’s ears, agriculture will need to come up with quick answers and real solutions.
Pointing out that putting unnecessary hurdles in the way of producers inevitably leads to higher costs for consumers won’t do it. We need to be prepared to counter both the facts and the emotion this notion will generate.