New water passport maps water opportunities for agricultural and horticultural businesses





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How to make your farm waterproof? As an agricultural and horticultural farmer, you know that it is important to be well-prepared for both dry and wet periods. Yet it’s not always clear at first glance what the options are on your farm. With the ‘water passport’, farms get clarity about sustainable water gains in their business. Dairy farmer Guy Lemmens from Rumst was the first farmer to receive this water passport from the hands of Kathleen Helsen, the commissioner responsible for agriculture.


Water passports could push agricultural and horticulturalists to the next level

From extreme drought in the spring of 2022 to the second wettest spring in 2024 since observations began in 1833. The agricultural sector is sensitive to the effects of climate change. More and more farmers are thinking about making their agricultural and horticultural businesses water-robust.

For advice and guidance, they can count on the researchers of Life ACLIMA, connected to one of the four practice centres in our province: Hooibeekhoeve, Poultry Breeding Experiment Station, Vegetable Breeding Experiment Station and Research Center Hoogstraten. They map water flows and water opportunities during an on-site visit. The company visit is an ideal start for participating farmers or horticulturists to become more water-conscious. As of today, this data is bundled in a water passport. In the form of a comprehensible passport, the farmer or horticulturist gets a picture of water gains and losses.

“Water is an essential element on every agricultural and horticultural farm,” says Deputy Commissioner in charge of Agriculture Kathleen Helsen. “Currently there is an excess of water but science has shown that in the future there will be especially longer periods of the same type of weather. To deal with this properly, the water management of our agricultural and horticultural farms must be as robust as possible. In this case, a water passport that offers various opportunities is a boon for the farmer and horticulturist. It offers a tailored overview: from small actions to larger investments that pay off in the long run. And all under the expert guidance of researchers at research centres such as Hooibeekhoeve. This enables them to make reasoned choices and to push their boundaries and think out of the box.”

First Water Passport for Rumst (Flanders) dairy farmer

The water passport is one of the many actions undertaken by the Life ACLIMA consortium. Over the past two years, 53 climate adaptation projects have taken place. 53 companies from the plant or animal sector went to the Life ACLIMA contact points with their water questions. For all these companies, a personal water passport was drawn up, indicating which pillars they can work with and which concrete measures they can take. The possibilities are vast: water conservation, increasing rainwater use, water infiltration, water reuse and external water sources. Which measures are most suitable, researchers from Hooibeekhoeve and other pilot centres cooperating in Life ACLIMA explain to the farmer and horticulturist in a conversation and bundle them later in the process in the water passport tailored to the farm.

“Such a water passport is the result of a screening of the entire water management of a farm. Just like a real passport, it contains all the useful data of the farm: from the size of the livestock to the different crops. And just like a real passport, you can get stamps. We take farmers and horticulturists on a journey through a range of possibilities on their farms. If they go ahead with a measure, we stamp it and look further ahead to the other possibilities,” says Els Stevens, dairy cattle project engineer at Hooibeekhoeve.

The first Water Passport is awarded to Guy Lemmens, a dairy farmer from Rumst where a company visit took place a while ago. Research revealed several possible measures, according to the Hooibeekhoeve researchers involved.

“First of all, we are going to investigate whether we can collect the rinse water for cleaning the machines, purify it and in the best case reuse it as drinking water. For this, we will use Life ACLIMA’s mobile water purification container. In this container, we can test different solutions and build our own, ideal purification train. We are also looking into the possibility of installing ventilation. By ventilating cow barns better in the summer, you create a refreshing effect to help cows cope better with heat stress. This reduces production losses and is positive for animal health and welfare,” Els further adds.

From Water Passport to Climate Adaptation Pathway

A farm visit and the resulting water passport are the first steps in a broader climate adaptation trajectory. Already 13 agricultural or horticulturalists from both the plant and animal sector have started to implement measures for a water-robust farm and 5 farms have plans for investments. Dairy farmer Guy Lemmens also can’t wait to get started. “I’m happy with the guidance I’m getting from the researchers at the Hooibeekhoeve. You know what is possible but thanks to this approach tailored to my farm, I also really know which directions I can take and where there is water to pick up to make smarter investments. This personal guidance removes a lot of doubts and ensures that I will make a motivated choice. We are now going to test and research a few more things and then I want to take it further.”

In addition to Guy, the other 52 farmers and horticulturalists who joined a climate adaptation program will also receive their water passports in the coming months. This will give them a good overview and a push to get started with the proposed measures.

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