According to a recent investigation by CORRECTIV, the German government’s official statistics on the water consumption of agriculture may be significantly underestimated. The government reports that only about 2% of Germany’s water consumption is used for agriculture. But this figure is based on self-reported data from agricultural companies and lacks independent verification. Furthermore, farmers are often not required to pay for the water they use, even as the climate crisis exacerbates competition for dwindling water supplies.
The lack of reliable data on agricultural water use in Germany makes it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. But comparisons with neighboring countries suggest that the 2% figure is suspiciously low. Denmark reports that 50% of its water goes to agriculture, while France reports nearly 10%. On average, a quarter of the water consumed in the EU is used for agriculture, but in Germany, the figure is only one-fiftieth of the total.
Furthermore, farmers in Germany are not charged for water use in almost half of the country’s states. A practice that has resulted in unequal access to water and a lack of incentives for more efficient use. Even in the dry states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg, farmers can pump and distribute water at almost no cost. According to the European Water Framework Directive, water should be charged to provide an adequate incentive for users to use the resource efficiently. But the current practice runs counter to this. In some regions, the fees are so low that they hardly motivate farmers to conserve water. This raises concerns that agricultural communities will give little thought to the costs of water use.
The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which distributes the bulk of the bloc’s billions of euros in farm subsidies, favors larger fields rather than water-efficient farming methods. Research highlights the need for more significant reforms to the water supply sector in the coming years. Particularly this is needed to response to an expected increase in court cases over future water withdrawals. The investigation also suggests different ways to save water while producing the same yields, including increasing the soil’s humus content, using mulch methods, planting different crops, and using cover crops to reduce soil moisture evaporation.
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