The message surfaces more frequently — water is the next limiting resource. Add to that the increasing and unwavering consensus that’s building toward global warming, and agriculture will face some new and daunting challenges in the future.

“The greatest risk climate change presents is reduction in the amount, quality and distribution of water supplies, the result of a warmer, semi-arid climate,” says David Sauchyn, environmental researcher at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.

He points to the prospect of more intense and widespread droughts. Of course, the possibility of a warmer, longer growing season holds potential for some production areas. “The key to these new opportunities, however, is a concerted effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions and adopt policies that enable individuals, corporations and communities to adapt to a warmer and drier climate. The main role of individuals and small businesses such as farms will be to manage resources in order to build resistance to climate change.”

For pork production, water management and conservation will be key. One such example of a producer’s effort to conserve water on the farm is a study by Dennis McKerracher, who looked at the spill rate of ball-bite water drinkers compared to standard water drinkers in a commercial hog barn throughout one year, involving six batches of 500 pigs each. Of course, the year-long timeline allowed for seasonal and weather variations.

“Also, we wanted to make sure all of the pigs coming into the barn had never been exposed to any kind of water drinker previously. That way they would have no preference of one over the other. We also made sure the pigs all came from the same suppliers,” he says.

“The idea was that ball-bite water drinkers would reduce water usage because a pig must have the whole valve in its mouth and then bite down to release water,” he says. “In contrast, a pig can easily release water from a standard water drinker by simply nudging the drinker, which wastes water and increases manure volume.”

Pigs in the ball-bite groups used 35 percent less water over the year (a total of 133,149 litres), with 50 percent less water used during the summer.

He added that the monitoring presented several side benefits. “If there was any problem in ventilation, feed or health we knew it immediately because of changes in water consumption.” 

“Environmentalism and agriculture are not oxymorons,” McKerracher says. “Many producers are concerned about the environment and are taking action.”