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L'Unité Expérimentale de Gotheron développe des programmes d'expérimentation-recherche sur les systèmes de production durable en  ARBORICULTURE  fruitière (abricotiers, pêchers, pommiers, poiriers). © MAITRE Christophe

Water and agriculture

Updated on 12/26/2016
Published on 09/15/2012

Human societies have three major needs when it comes to water: quantity, quality and the preservation of aquatic environments. Given the stakes involved, research provides knowledge and tools to develop new production systems to save more water and better manage water resources.

Water is a resource which is becoming increasingly scarce and discussed. Increased requirements for agricultural and non-agricultural uses, pressures on water management, and the effects of climate change on plants and on the water regime have shown the limits of water and the need for global management.

Managing quantity

In terms of overall quantity, France has sufficient water; however, the distribution between regions is unequal. The Massif Central and Brittany have a low capacity for groundwater storage. In Brittany, water supply depends mainly on surface reservoirs: the Arzal Dam provides water to nearly one-third of the population. In the area around the Mediterranean, the climate is much drier but is subject to violent storms. In the southwest, the development of irrigated maize production requires significant quantities of water.

Furthermore, according to the latest climatic scenarios, droughts are expected to become more frequent in the future. Short-term management will be focused on anticipating and determining the extent of drought periods, and optimising existing agricultural systems. Over the long-term, agricultural systems will need to be re-evaluated to combine drought resistance and competitiveness. Scientists at INRA are exploring the question from all angles, from improving plant varieties to territorial water management and developing innovative farming systems. Modelling plays a central role in managing the complexity of the various approaches and finding a consistent overall course of action.


Managing quality

In addition to quantity, the quality of water must be preserved. Identifying sources of pollution, a difficult task given the complex route water takes from its entrance in a catchment area to its exit, the outlet.

Researchers at INRA are studying the main pollutants from farming: nitrates and plant protection products. They have built models to study how these pollutants get transferred to water sources.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Christian Huyghe/ Deputy Scientific Director - Agriculture

Water resources and consumption in France:

-          2 trillion cubic metres of groundwater

-          Relatively abundant rainwater

-          A dense hydrographic network

-          Water withdrawal for all human activities: 32 billion cubic metres per year, of which 26 billion cubic metres are recycled

-          6 billion cubic metres of water are consumed per year

-          The energy, industry and domestic water sectors recycle 90% of withdrawn water

-          Agriculture returns very little water to the soil. It represents 12% of withdrawals, but over 40% of actual consumed volume.