Rice, corn, wheat and potatoes are the four most important staple foods worldwide. The potato stands out because it provides a high amount of nutrients per unit area and has comparatively little water consumption. This makes the potato interesting for Europe and countries where the population grows rapidly, and the available water supply is limited. Water is becoming a crucial factor in safely feeding the world's population, and valuable water is regionally very unevenly available.
The water consumption of approximately 15,000 l for 1 kg of beef is repeatedly cited as a classic example, while around 2,500 l of virtual water is estimated for the same amount of rice and only around 130 l for potatoes.
This water consumption for British potato cultivation contrasts with consumption of 200 l to over 400 l of virtual water for 1 kg of new potatoes from Israel or Egypt. The water footprint for potatoes has been held up as particularly relevant now that globalisation has highlighted the need to coordinate some resources on a worldwide scale.
The United Kingdom is not one of the regions with a water shortage. With an average annual precipitation of 885mm, the UK offers favourable conditions for agricultural production. But an average is not everything. Climate changes are also noticeable in agriculture and forestry.
Extreme weather events have become more frequent in recent years. Strong annual and regional fluctuations in temperature and precipitation distribution have led to a significant decrease in available water in agricultural soils. The growing seasons are shifting and getting longer.
The potato industry feels these effects directly. Heat and drought periods lead to an increased need for irrigation. This is the only way to meet existing customer requirements and the high-quality standards for ware potatoes. The potato is a crop that needs irrigation. Additional watering ensures quality, provides a higher market share and stabilises the yield.
Efficient irrigation systems, consistent water use for crops that need irrigation, such as potatoes, and effective water management in companies help conserve water as a valuable resource.
If climate change continues unabated, water will become a crucial factor for stable agricultural production in the years to come. The need for a necessary water supply and adequate irrigation will increase rapidly. Varietal selection, resource-saving cultivation methods and access to water determine future production. The potato industry is facing up to these challenges.
Due to its comparatively weak root system, the potato cannot do without additional irrigation to bridge dry phases, even in the UK. Research into the potato has repeatedly underlined its high need for irrigation through increased yields and improvements in quality.
With the help of further developed irrigation techniques and demand-oriented forecast models, water use should be made even more effective in the future, and thus virtual water consumption should be further reduced.
At the same time, comprehensive groundwater monitoring and the development of alternative water sources ensure that potato industry water usage is sustainable.
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