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Environmental engineer and hydrologist Michelle Schmidt supports research and modeling aimed at quantifying the greenhouse gas, carbon, and water conservation benefits of regenerative practices on agricultural lands for crediting and corporate sustainability reporting.
American farmland spanning hundreds of millions of acres consumes more than a staggering 100 billion gallons of water daily. If your business relies on agriculture for producing goods, you're part of this substantial water footprint—and our solutions help you report on water savings on your path to achieving sustainability goals.
It’s not a straightforward issue to address, though. Managing water use in agriculture is a nuanced challenge impacting farmer productivity and profitability. Striking the right balance between resource conservation and maintaining robust crop yields is crucial. It's not just about using less water; it's about using it wisely. And doing so to stay in business. According to the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, we are on the path to a 40% global shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030.
Earlier this year, the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) unveiled a framework for setting nature-based targets related to freshwater that are regionally specific, measurable, and time-bound that companies can set to reduce their impact on freshwater resources. This release marked a pivotal moment for businesses to contribute to preserving groundwater and surface water sources that are overtaxed because of agriculture, withdrawals/pumping for other business end uses, and industrial pressures. The framework offers a comprehensive approach to set targets that align corporate ambitions with critical actions in key landscapes. Targets become a guiding compass for meaningful, collective action, ensuring a sustainable future.
Indigo Ag closely monitors policy development, including the SBTN framework, to integrate the latest guidance and methodologies into our environmental benefit solutions. Our solutions for Scope 3 emissions reductions can also yield results for water footprint reductions.
So, how can you initiate water-saving measures in your supply chain?
The Dual Nature of Water Conservation
To effectively manage water resources in your supply chain, it's imperative to delve into the dual aspects of water conservation: quantity and quality.
Water conservation extends far beyond the conventional narratives of reducing usage. It demands a nuanced approach to address the multifaceted challenges associated with quantity. This encompasses not only the imperative to conserve water, but also the necessity to manage extremes, from grappling with floods in some regions to navigating drought-induced scarcity in others.
Consider the geographical nuances. In the western United States, intricate federal mandates and seniority water rights impose challenges on limiting water use. This is particularly crucial in the context of depleted aquifers and a growing concern over water scarcity. The Eastern U.S. can struggle with drought, too, and flood risks - both ends of the spectrum.
Indigo Ag's commitment to water conservation goes beyond merely advocating for reduced water usage. Our Scope 3 water solutions, currently focused on rice, incorporate additional initiatives for preserving water at all points of the cycle, such as reducing water use through alternate wetting and drying. These kinds of farming practices protect a sustainable water supply, especially during dry months, and can provide the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past five years, Indigo Ag has been scaling programs that use efficient irrigation practices with various food and beverage companies. Farmers in our programs have collectively saved more than 7.4 billion gallons of water from rice production alone. And they are earning a premium for implementing sustainable practices that reduce water usage and on-farm emissions. "We are doing everything...the most financially sound way we can…if we have partners on the consumer side, to pay for more environmentally sustainable practices, then it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Arkansas farmer Jeff Rutledge, who is enrolled in Indigo Ag’s Scope 3 program.
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Water quality is the other side of the coin, intricately tied to how pollutants move through ecosystems, including sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus. If farming practices that help preserve the health of soil are deployed, then more of these nutrients and chemicals stay where they belong—in the ground, available to growing crops—and out of the waterways.
Indigo's Scope 3 solutions advocate and incentivize methods like cover crops and no-till farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. These practices also act as effective measures against erosion, preserving the integrity of the soil, and keeping pollutants from entering waterways, which can lead to harmful algae blooms and disrupted oxygen levels for aquatic life.
Quantifying Water Benefits Quality at the Field Level
Understanding and quantifying water quantity at the field level is currently an integral component of Indigo's approach in our rice programs. This involves meticulous consideration of various data sets, including national data sets and grower-specific data. Gridded weather, topographic and soils data are combined with sensor-detected irrigation records and grower-specific operation data to simulate hydrologic processes and water use. Proprietary algorithms for modeling hydrology at the field level tie these datasets together, ensuring a comprehensive and effective approach.
Indigo Ag is committed to conserving water in a thorough way, focusing on both how much we use and its quality. Our goal is to not just to solve immediate problems but also to make a lasting difference in how we manage water.
Businesses Already See Eye-to-Eye
At their core, both consumer goods companies and farmers share a fundamental reliance on a common set of resources crucial for sustaining their businesses—natural resources. These resources feed the farmer’s bottom line and eventually combine to become the raw materials companies need to make their food or beverage products.
A shared awareness to conserve these natural resources, including water, drives companies across the supply chain to take proactive measures and innovate in resource preservation, even before government policies mandate such actions.
Implementing water conservation practices not only benefits the environment but also presents tangible, financial advantages for farmers. Using less water translates to cost savings, in the form of less electricity, fuel, manpower, and time, and increases resilience in the face of water shortages.
From a corporate standpoint, water conservation is becoming increasingly crucial. SBTN is planning to finalize guidance on setting freshwater quantity and freshwater quality targets in 2024 which will would includerequire adherence to targets around water conservation. Companies are recognizing the significance of water footprints in their operations and supply chains. They are looking for opportunities to better preserve and manage water within their corporate headquarters—whether through better wastewater treatment procedures, or eliminating plastic water bottles in the employee fridge—and all the way through the supply chain to the farms they rely on. Investing in regenerative farming practices not only aligns with corporate responsibility but also mitigates risks associated with water scarcity, a concern that resonates with both consumers and investors.
Tackling water conservation presents challenges, but also opportunities for positive corporate influence. The voluntary nature of water conservation in agriculture allows companies to play a role. It's a collective effort crossing boundaries and sectors. Let's keep the dialogue alive, seek innovative solutions, and work towards a future with abundant and clean water.