Irrigation water use doubles between 2010 and 2012

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The amount of water Canadian farmers used for irrigation more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, with the greatest volume increases in Alberta and Manitoba where farmers reported increases of more than 150 per cent.

Water use data released by Statistics Canada show approximately 1.7 billion cubic metres of water used in 2012 across the country, with just over three-quarters of that applied to crops in Alberta.

Nationally, more than 590,000 hectares of land were irrigated in 2012, up 12 per cent from 2010. Seventy per cent of that land was in Alberta where 420,940 hectares of land were under irrigation in 2012.

Farms in British Columbia were responsible for the second-largest amount of water used for irrigation, although their usage remained stable over the period.

Most water was used to irrigate field crops (61 per cent) and forage crops (34 per cent), with just three and two per cent used on fruit and vegetable crops respectively.

British Columbia had the largest number of farms that reported irrigation (2,950 farms) while Manitoba and the Atlantic region had the fewest (110 and 130 farms, respectively).

Close to 75 per cent of the water used for irrigation came from off-farm sources, while 20 per cent came from on-farm surface water and five per cent came from on-farm underground water sources. Off-farm water was the predominant water source for Alberta and Saskatchewan, while the majority of irrigation water in Eastern Canada came from on-farm, surface water sources. Just over half (56 per cent) of all water used for irrigation in Manitoba came from on-farm groundwater sources.

The majority of farms (6,860 farms) in 2012 did not have problems with irrigation, but some producers did have to stop or forgo irrigation due to shortage of surface water or underground water, poor water quality and other issues, the report titled Agricultural Water Use in Canada 2012 says. Seven hundred and eighty-five farms could not irrigate because of a shortage of surface water, and 340 farms experienced a shortage of underground water. Over 1,600 farms could not irrigate because of poor water quality, an irrigation ban or other reasons.

A variety of conservation practices were in use in 2012. Watering at night or in the morning was the most common practice, followed by farms using water or energy-saving nozzles, or incorporating compost or other organic material into the soil.

Approximately 500 farms did not use any energy- or water-conservation practices.

The survey gathered information on irrigation water use, irrigation methods and practices and sources and quality used by farmers during the 2012 growing season (April 1 to October 31, 2012) and was part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program.

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