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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Water Use Intensity (WUI) of irrigated crops / Water Use Intensity (WUI) of irrigated crops (WREI 004) - Assessment DRAFT created Oct 2013

Water Use Intensity (WUI) of irrigated crops (WREI 004) - Assessment DRAFT created Oct 2013

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Generic metadata

Topics:

Water Water (Primary topic)

Agriculture Agriculture

Green economy Green economy

Tags:
water efficiency | irrigation | green economy | crops | water | water productivity | water economy | agriculture | water productivity water efficiency / agriculture / water / green economy / crops / irrigation
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • WREI 004
Dynamic
Temporal coverage:
2010
Geographic coverage:
Austria Belgium Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Czechia Denmark Estonia Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Montenegro Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Romania Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland United Kingdom
 
Contents
 

Key policy question: When looking at irrigated agriculture in Europe, what is the water use per unit benefit (expressed in economic terms)?

Key messages

 

A broad range in water productivity values is observed for the main irrigated crops in Europe, which is caused by the many interplaying factors in the soil-crop-water patterns. This variability is mainly ascribed to the climate, irrigation water management, and soil (fertility) management, although more explanatory variables prevail (Zwart, 2010). Yet, we can distinguish between 'high water, low economic value' crops and 'low water, high economic value' alternatives. Cereals (excluding maize and rice), maize (green and grain) and sunflower are classified in the former group, while potatoes and vineyards are valuable crops on a ‘crop-per-drop’ assessment basis. Sugar beets exhibit medium productivity values. Olive and citrus plantations are more of a regional interest (Southern EU), with citrus being a high added value crops while olives highly vary in economic productivities, mainly influenced by the great difference in production values between table olives and oil olive. Fruits and vineyards also vary highly in the range of products and water needs, so no concrete messages can be conveyed through the present analysis.

Overall, the highest economic benefits per m3 irrigation water, seen from the farmer's perspective (expressed as ECWP values by purchasing power) is obtained in Eastern European areas, followed by Western and Southern countries. Specific areas can be flagged out with highest ECWP values on a crops specific basis: in NL and HU for cereals, in HU and PL for maize, in LV, EE, HU, FR, RO for potatoes, in HU, NL, SK, PL for sugar beets, in HU, SK, AT for sunflowers, in HR and CY for citrus.

With agriculture being one of the largest consumers of water in Europe, significant gains in water productivity are expected to be made in this sector. Correlations between ECWP values and the irrigation method used have been observed: in areas where surface irrigation systems prevail there is an observed linear trend of lower ECWP values, whereas higher ECWP values are observed in areas dominated by sprinklers with zero to minor surface irrigation.

Spatial information on water use, crop production and water productivity will play a vital role for water managers to assess where scarce water resources are wasted and where in a given region the water productivity can be improved, facilitating thus decisions on where to invest and what measures to implement for making irrigated agriculture more water productive (Zwart, 2010).

Area covered by each of the main irrigated crops

Chart
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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for maize (green and grain) and cereals (excl. maize and rice) among European Countries

Note: The chart displays the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated cereals (excluding maize and rice) and maize (green and grain) per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe.

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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for sugar beet, rape and sunflower among European Countries

Note: The chart displays the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated sugar beet, rape and sunflower per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe.

Data source:
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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for potatoes among European Countries

Note: The chart displays the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated potatoes per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe.

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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for citrus plantations among European Countries

Note: The chart displays the production value (at producer price and at current values) in € PPS of the irrigated citrus plantations per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe

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Percentage of irrigated areas applying different irrigation methods

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Correlation between the average country level WUI and the % of area irrigated with surface irrigation systems in 24 EU countries

Note: The chart displays the correlation between the average country level WUI (in m3/€ PPS), among all crops in the country, and the % of area irrigated with surface irrigation systems in 22 European countries, with % of area irrigated with surface irrigation systems below 40% in 2010 (FI, DE, NO, DK, NL, SE, FR, UK, CH, MT, CZ, CY, AT, HU, SI, HR, EL, RO, PL, IT, ES, SK).

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Key assessment

 

Agriculture is a significant water user in Europe, accounting for around 33% of total water use, reaching up to 80% in parts of Southern Europe where irrigation needs are high (EEA, 2012). In arid and semi-arid areas of Europe (including much of Southern Europe) irrigation enables crop production where water would otherwise be a limiting factor, while in more humid and temperate areas, irrigation provides a way of regulating the seasonal availability of water to match agricultural needs, reducing the risk of crop failures during periods of low rainfall or drought and thereby stabilizing farmer incomes (EEA, 2012). Based on the Eurostat Farm Structure Survey (FSS) Agricultural census of 2010, about 10.5 million ha are irrigated in the whole of Europe (EU 28, plus Norway, Switzerland and Montenegro), representing a 6% of the total utilized agricultural area (UAA). The predominant irrigated crop is maize (green and grain) representing 21% of the total irrigated area, followed by the cereals (excluding maize and rice) (15%), olive plantations (9%), fruit and berry plantations (7%), fresh vegetables-open field (6%), vineyards (5%) and citrus plantations (5%). Rice, potatoes and sugar beets are less predominant, while sunflower, pulses, rape and textile crops are of a more regional character. The remaining “other crops on arable land” represent a 9%, while temporary and permanent grass is about 10%. The distribution of crops per country is presented in Figure 1.

Productivity is often used as metrics of efficiency and is, in general, a ratio referring to the unit of output per unit of input. The Economic Water Productivity of irrigated crops (ECWP) is applied for the main irrigated crops in Europe, with the purpose to facilitate the assessment of the actual output (physical and/or economic) of irrigated crops compared to the actual water used for the irrigation of these crops, linking thus water to the economy.

Maize and cereals, the predominant crops in the EU, exhibit medium to low water productivities among the EU NUTS2 regions. Overall, maize productivities are slightly higher than those of cereals (Figure 2), ranging on average around 2.03 € PPS/m3 for Eastern, 1.12 for Western and 0.67 for Southern European NUTS2 areas (Figure 10). PPS is Purchasing Power Standard (PPS) used for indexing.  The average productivities of cereals are lower, around 1.53 and 0.41 € PPS/m3 for Eastern and Southern respectively, while slightly higher (1.24) for Western Europe (Figure 9). Yet, this later value is in fact much lower (equal to 0.84) if we exclude Dutch areas from the average. Regarding maize, NUTS2 areas with significantly high productivities (>2.5 € PPS/m3) are located in most of Hungary, and Poland, as well as in France, Netherlands and Austria (individual cases). With regards to the cereals, productivities greater than 2.5 € PPS/m3 are observed in NUTS2 areas in most of Netherlands and Hungary.

The cultivation of sugar beets, rape and sunflower are of a higher profitability on “crop per drop” metrics than the previously mentioned crops (maize, cereals). The average ECWP for the sugar beets ranges around 3.83 € PPS/m3 for Eastern, 2.77 for Western and 1.10 for Southern European NUT2 areas (Figure11). Lower productivity values are observed for the rapes (and turnip rapes), around 2.44, 1.25 and 0.14 € PPS/m3 respectively, and for the sunflower (2.88 / 0.88 / 0.17 € PPS/m3 respectively). (Figure 3).

Potatoes demonstrate high ECWP value (Figure 4, Figure12), namely 12.80 € PPS/m3 for Eastern, 6.84 for Western and 6.68 for Southern European NUT2 areas, and are thus considered as a “strategic valuable crop” in the analysis. On the opposite side, rice has very low ECWP values (0.67 € PPS/m3 for Eastern and 0.21 for Southern European NUTS2 areas). Olives and citrus are of a more regional interest, prevailing in Southern Europe, the later exhibiting variable ECWP values ranging from 3.26 € PPS/m3 in Cyprus to 0.84 in Portugal (Figure 5, Figure 13).

Overall, it is observed that Southern EU countries demonstrate lower water productivities for the various crops investigated in the analysis. The spatial variability of water productivity within low productivity systems, found in the Southern EU areas as indicated by the ECWP, is higher than in high productivity systems because water supply in the former case is uncertain and farming conditions are sub-optimal. The high variability found in areas with low water productivity indicates that there is considerable scope for improvement.

With regards to the irrigation systems used, it is expected that higher values of the ECWP are related with more efficient systems (i.e. drop irrigation and sprinkler). At the EU level, 21% are surface irrigation systems, 54% sprinklers and 26% drop irrigation systems on average. These percentages highly vary from country to country with CY, EE and MT having widespread drop irrigation, DK, NO, NL, SE and UK being dominated by sprinklers, while BG, LT and ME principally using surface irrigation (Figure 6). In Eastern Europe the 3 systems are represented roughly at equal percentages. Western Europe is dominated by sprinklers at 84%, while in Southern Europe the sprinklers and drop irrigation systems together account for about 80%. Acknowledging the fact that the ECWP is influenced by many interacting factors (e.g. soil, climate, etc.) some correlations between the ECWP and the irrigation methods applied can be observed (Figure 7). A positive correlation is observed between the ECWP and sprinklers’ irrigation. A linear trend is observed with the ECWP increasing proportionally to increasing percentages of sprinkler irrigation systems used in the countries. The overall average ECWP of countries having more than 60% sprinklers is 2.56
€ PPS/m3, as opposed to an average value of 1.67 in those having less than 60%. The opposite trend (negative correlation), but less significant, is observed between the ECWP and surface irrigation, where the ECWP decreases with increased percentages of surface irrigation systems. The overall average ECWP of countries having less than 20% surface irrigation is 2.31
€ PPS/m3, as opposed to an average value of 1.76 in those having more than 20%. Of course, this is not an imperative rule as additional physical factors (e.g. soil fertility) influence the ECWP.

 

References

Zwart, S. J., (2010). Benchmarking water productivity in agriculture and the scope for improvement - remote sensing modelling from field to global scale. PhD Thesis, Published by: VSSD, Leeghwaterstraat 42, 2628 CA Delft, The Netherlands, ISBN: 978-90-6562-237-2.

Postel, S.L., 1998. Water for food production: will there be enough in 2025? Biosci. 48, pp 629-637.

Specific policy question: What is the current spatial distribution across Europe of water use intensity for the main types of crops in irrigated agriculture, expressed in indexed economic terms?

Water Used for Irrigation in Europe per NUTS2 Regions (m3/ha)

Note: The map shows Water Used for Irrigation in (m3/ha) among different countries in Europe at NUTS2 level. Irrigation water for kitchen gardens and crops under glass is not included. There is uncertainty if combined use of irrigation drainage system is quantified and included where applied.

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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for cereals (excl. maize and rice) across EU NUTS2 areas

Note: The map shows the production value (at producer price and at current values) in € PPS of the irrigated cereals per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe at NUTS2 level.

Data source:
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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) for maize (green and grain) across EU NUTS2 areas

Note: The map shows the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated maize (green and grain) per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe at NUTS2 level

Data source:
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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) sugarbeet across EU NUTS2 areas

Note: The map shows the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated sugarbeet per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe at NUTS2 level

Data source:
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ECWP (in € PPS/m3) potatoes across EU NUTS2 areas

Note: The map shows the production value at producer price (values at current prices) in € PPS of the irrigated potatoes per volume of water used for their irrigation (in m3) among different countries in Europe at NUTS2 level

Data source:
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Specific assessment

 

With the limits of the Green Revolution being reached, and the fresh water resources unsustainably exploited, research and policy are opting to increase the productivity of water in agriculture to sustain and improve food security. This strategy is more popularly stated “to produce more crop per drop” (Kijne et al., 2003). In a broader sense, increasing the productivity of water means getting more value from each drop of water. The scale and importance of irrigation is significantly greater in the Southern EU areas but far from negligible in most Eastern and Western EU areas. Areas with more than 3.000 m3/ha irrigation water use are (besides the Mediterranean countries ES, PT, FR, IT, EL, MT, CY) encountered in RO, AT, BG, ME, SI, while areas with irrigation use between 1.000-3.000 m/ha are additionally observed in DE, DK, HR, SE, SK, UK (Figure 8). It has to be noted that irrigation water for kitchen gardens and crops under glass (vegetables, flowers and permanent crops) is excluded from this analysis, it is thus understood that these volumes would be higher if the later intensive crops were included. It is assumed that all irrigation methods are included in the FSS. However, uncertainty is raised whether the combined use of irrigation/drainage systems (i.e. draining in wet season, submerged irrigation in dry season by raising water tables in rivers or groundwater), common in some countries, is actually quantified and accounted for. If not included, this will falsely increase the calculatated water productivities.

Different crops are subject to irrigation at varying levels of intensity across the EU NUTS2 areas. Four main categories are distinguished by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP, 2000): 

1.       Extensive crops (E): these are generally lower value or permanent crops for which irrigation is used mainly in arid regions to stimulate enhanced growth and productivity, at a fairly low level (e.g. permanent grassland, permanent crops including olives, vines and citrus/apple orchards).

2.       Semi-intensive crops (S): these are generally lower value crops where irrigation is more widely used to improve growth rates and productivity, either on a seasonal basis at times of peak demand (notably in northern Member States) or for most of the cropping period. Rates of water use are generally higher than for extensive crops (e.g. sown or temporary grassland, alfalfa less than 5yrs old, cereals or oilseeds, maize - maize could also be considered as intensive with regards to water use).

3.       Intensive crops (I): these are generally high value crops where irrigation can be critically important to maintain yields and quality and it is therefore more intensively applied to the crop (e.g. root crops such as potatoes, sugar beet and swedes, industrial crops such as cotton and tobacco, open air horticulture (salads, green vegetables grown in the open), glasshouse production (salads, tomatoes)

4.       Saturated crops (S): where water is used to flood fields in order to facilitate the production of crops which require saturation conditions (e.g. rice)

With regards to the semi-intensive crops, cereals (excluding maize and rice) being a representative one, the ECWP ranges from 0.01-5.91 € PSS/m3 among the NUTS2 areas (Figure 9), with areas in NL (e.g. Flevoland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Zuid-Holland), HU (e.g. Észak-Magyarország, Nyugat-Dunántúl, Közép-Dunántúl, Dél-Dunántúl), SK (Západné Slovensko, Bratislavský kraj) being flagged as the most productive on a crop per drop basis.

The semi-intensive crops sugar beets and potatoes demonstrate higher water productivities, ranging from 0.07-9.13 € PPS/m3 and 0.25-66.84 € PPS/m3 respectively. With regards to the sugar beets, areas in NL (e.g. Flevoland, Overijssel, Zuid-Holland, Friesland), HU (e.g. Észak-Alföld), SK (e.g. Bratislavský kraj), PL (e.g. Wielkopolskie, Kujawsko-Pomorskie) outstand as most water productive (Figure 11). For the potatoes, a high variability in productivities is detected, while the highest ECWP values are observed in FR (e.g. Corse, Alsace, Guadeloupe, Auvergne), HU (e.g. Nyugat-Dunántúl, Észak-Magyarország, Közép-Magyarország, Dél-Alföld), LV (Latvija), RO (e.g. Sud-Est, Nord-Est), EE (Eesti) (Figure 12).

Maize can be classified as a semi-intensive to intensive crop. The observed ECWP values are higher than those of cereals but lower than those of sugar beets, ranging from 0.03-7.30 € PPS/m3 across the EU NUTS2 areas. High ECWP values for maize are evident in areas of HU (e.g. Észak-Magyarország, Közép-Dunántúl, Közép-Magyarország, Nyugat-Dunántúl, Dél-Dunántúl), PL (e.g. Lubelskie, Mazowieckie, Lubuskie), FR (e.g. Corse) (Figure 10).

Citrus is of regional interest, cultivated in Southern EU and Croatia. ECWP values range from 0.07-3.26 € PPS/m3 across Southern EU NUTS2 areas, while HR, CY and the Região Autónoma da Madeira (PT) demonstrate the highest productivities (See Map 13: ECWP (in € PPS/m3) citrus across EU NUTS2 areas).

Crops of different values as subject to various levels of irrigation intensity, being generally categorized from extensive (lower value) to intensive (high value, elevated irrigation needs) (IEEP, 2000). As technology improves and water saving measures are applied, crop water productivity is expected to rise. Hence, it can be considered as an indicator of the socio-technological response to water scarcity.

 

References

EEA (2012). EEA (2012). Towards efficient use of water resources in Europe, EEA Report, No 1/2012.

IEEP (2000). The environmental impacts of irrigation in the European Union. A report to the Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, London, in association with the Polytechnical University of Madrid and the University of Athens, March 2000.

Kijne, J.W., R. Barker, D. Molden (2003). Water Productivity in Agriculture: Limits and Opportunities for Improvement. CAB International, Wallingford UK.

Pfeiffer, L. and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin. (2010). Does Efficient Irrigation Technology Lead to Reduced Groundwater Extraction?: Empirical Evidence. Agricultural and Applied Economics Association 2010 AAEA,CAES, and WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado, July 25-27, 2010.

UNEP (2012). Measuring Water use in a Green Economy. ISBN: 978-92-807-3220-7


Data sources

More information about this indicator

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Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Bo Jacobsen

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2013 1.4.3 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 3 years in July-September (Q3)
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