Sustainability is one of the most common trends that food and beverage manufacturers are seeing in 2022 — and with the current drought conditions in the Southwestern states, the timing couldn’t have been better! However, with this renewed focus, many business owners are left with the task of simultaneously updating and innovating their current irrigation systems.
With many manufacturers still relying on outdated or “flood” based systems, this is proving to be a heavier task than previously thought and requires new technology in order to meet the timeline that many outside states, agencies, and global initiatives are placing on the different areas of the growth and production elements of the supply chain.
Below, we’re creating a discussion around what sustainable water strategies for food and beverage manufacturers would look like, and offering insight into top-down changes that can be made in order to meet current and future sustainability parameters and guidelines.
What should food and beverage business owners know about sustainability in 2022?
The frontier of sustainability and business ownership is rapidly changing, with many companies attempting to implement an eventual “Net 0” policy at an organization-wide level. This thought process aligns with the most recent stances of the 2021 COP26 Global Summit, where different elements of food industry sustainable practices were scrutinized.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to sustainability in the food and beverage industry, so long as there is awareness and progress being made at an organizational level. Many executives and department leaders are looking into new production methods entirely, while many are opting to revamp traditional irrigation systems and other operational elements.
Going forward, we can expect to see different technical elements and updates involved in the process of more sustainable methods of management, as well as updates such as zero-waste packaging and creation processes used during the development and production process.
Exploring sustainable irrigation methods for manufacturers and growers
Irrigation is a necessary part of the growing process for our favorite fruits and vegetables and is required for healthy pastures for livestock and poultry. However, the “traditional” method of flood irrigation ended up being incredibly inefficient against current conservation practices and methods. However, new technologies and advancements are creating a promising future for those who are looking for more sustainable alternatives. Below are just two of the main examples of the industry-wide shifts that companies are making to build a better tomorrow:
1. Drip irrigation
Drip irrigation methods have risen in popularity over the past decade, and offer a variety of benefits to growers and producers. Rather than the more antiquated flood methods, drip is more strategic; and is able to minimize the instances of water-sourced disease caused by ineffective absorption, which is more commonly seen in flood-irrigated fields. Drip goes more directly into the soil, avoiding prolonged exposure to the “green” parts of the plant. It also is able to more effectively reach the seeds and bulbs without pooling around the area, minimizing the localized growth of weeds.
Beyond the operational benefits, this form of irrigation can be far more cost-efficient and minimizes water use in most cases, which is why many growers have opted for this form of hydration management. However, there are potential barriers to use. The initial investment in the formation of the irrigation system can be costly, as drip irrigators can run up to $5000 and beyond for industrial systems.
This form of irrigation relies on a “sprinkler-like” distribution method that is more sweeping than drip irrigation’s strategic delivery, but discharges from the heads at a reduced rate. This targeted reduction in water use and efficient placement of the irrigation heads allows for more effective root-area hydration, making it an ideal choice for commercial growers and farms.
Due to its spray pattern, it also is more effective at completing fertigation and chemigation processes across all types of soils, doubling the efficiency of your delivery and resulting in better, higher yields of your desired crop.
Incentivization can empower growers to make true change
One of the main barriers to irrigation reform is the total amount of cost that it would take to completely redo a farm’s line system. This risk can be managed if there is available financial incentivization to assist in covering the purchase, or in reducing the overall financial load after the purchase has been made.
Several programs highlighting the need for sustainability in food and beverage production have been enacted at a federal and state level, some of the most notable of these including the EQIP, CSP, RCCP, & SWEEP. They continue to impact the field by providing both financial and technical aid to farms and leaders who are committed to enacting true environmental change in their daily processes.
At a federal level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers approximately $100 per acre of incentivization awards through the EQIP program, provided that the farm meets the pre-eligibility requirements.
With these steps in place for future success, we hope to see a brighter future for food and beverage manufacturers at one of their most crucial phases: growth & production.
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