Water is essential for agriculture, just as water is essential for humans.  I know that I wouldn’t want to drink water if I didn’t know what was in my glass.  Just like us, farmers want to know what is in the water they’re using for their crops.  A water test will look at the levels of nutrients, bacteria concentrations, water salinity, and water pH.

3-13-17irrigation systemThe first reason to test the water is to improve water usage with irrigation.  This would apply to parts of southern Illinois; there are many reasons that a farm may have to irrigate its crops, including dry climate or well-drained soils.  One of the most important aspects of the water test for irrigated land is the salinity, which is when excess sodium accumulates in the soil and acts as a toxin. This makes it harder for plants to absorb water from the soil.  Farmers who irrigate must keep an eye on the water salinity because soil can’t recover from this.

3-13-17Animal drinkingAnother reason to test water is to measure the water quality and be sure that the water is safe for animal consumption.  Animals do not need the same standard of water quality that humans do.  Farmers, if they own livestock, would want to test the water to look at the number of bacteria in the water and to be sure that the bacteria isn’t harmful.  Bacteria can also be harmful to fruits or vegetables because it can contaminate the fruit or vegetable. Then those foods become harmful to the people or animals consuming them, like E. coli or Salmonella.
PrintThe third reason to test water is to find ways to reduce leaching or loss of nutrients due to draining through the soil.  Nobody wants to throw away money, so farmers should test their water to learn more about the nutrients in the water already.  The biggest nutrient that is leached in the soil would be nitrogen, and when nitrogen is in the soil it is a fantastic nutrient, but if it is leached out and into fresh water bodies then it becomes a pollutant.   Also, farmers need to look at the number of nutrients the water is leaking from the soil because that will not be useful to the crops.

Water has a large effect on soil and soil has a huge effect on plant growth.  For example, the soil needs to contain a pH of around 6.5, which is slightly acidic.  Testing the water pH is important because it will affect the acidity of the soil, and if the water is too acidic then the soil will become too acidic.

97% of the world water is in the ocean, which is unusable.  The freshwater that used in needs to be tested.  In agriculture, it is essential to test water to ensure water quality, understand and reduce leaching, and prevent water salinity and soil salinity.


Mary Marsh
University of Illinois

About corncorps

As Illinois' corn farmers, we're proud to power a sustainable economy through ethanol, livestock and nutritious food. We love agriculture, the land and CornBelters baseball.See http://ilcorn.org or follow us on Twitter, http://twitter.com/ilcorn.
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