What Fruits & Vegetables Use the Most Water?

Farms across the US are struggling with extreme droughts and rising water costs. Climate change and droughts have reduced the available surface water flowing from mountain ranges to irrigate crops. Farmers have had to resort to pumping water from underground aquifers.

Some states have been especially hard hit and may soon face mandatory water rationing. To help ease the pain of water shortages and rationing, some farms are cutting back on “water guzzling” crops and switching to produce that has a relatively light water impact. So which fruits and vegetables use the most water and which are more drought tolerant?

Water Footprint of Common Fruits and Vegetables

Agriculture is the largest global consumer of freshwater. The term “water footprint” measures the volume of evapotranspiration (ET) or water use of a crop per unit mass of yield. Here’s how much water is needed to produce 1 kg of the following fruits and vegetables (from The water footprint of food):

  • Olives—4,400 (liters)
  • Mangos—1,600
  • Peaches or nectarines—1200
  • Maize—900
  • Bananas—800
  • Apples or pears—700
  • Oranges—460
  • Dates—300
  • Potatoes—250
  • Cucumbers or pumpkins—240
  • Cabbage—200
  • Tomatoes—180
  • Lettuce—130

Reducing Your Water Use

Besides growing more drought-tolerate fruits and vegetables, there are certain things you can do to reduce the water footprint of your garden. Among the most effective are Drip Irrigation and Mulching. Using a drip system on a mulched garden can cut your water use by 50 percent.  Vegetables need about a quarter-inch of water every day during the summer.  If you water your garden every four days, apply an inch of water when you irrigate.  Hot, windy weather sucks the water out of plants, so they will require more irrigation under these conditions. Beans and corn will need a lot more water during blooming or tasseling/silking.

Other Water Saving Techniques

To reduce water evaporation and provide shade for roots, plant your vegetables in blocks, instead of rows. And group plants with similar water needs to simplify irrigation.  Also be vigilant in weeding around each plant, as weeds take water away from you vegetables. Set up windbreaks around plants and soil to reduce water evaporation. If you live in an area that has adopted water rationing, your vegetables will still do well if your soil has enough organic content. That said, it might be a good idea to avoid crops with a heavy water footprint — like beans or sweet corn.

 

 

93 comments

Christine J.
Christine J2 years ago

Surprising results. I thought olives would be much less water-intensive than they are. Mind you, it's not really fair to compare some of these. I could eat a kilo of tomatoes in three days, whereas a kilo of olives would last me for months. Thanks for an interesting piece.

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Erin H.
Erin H4 years ago

Interesting article, thank you!

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JL A.
JL A4 years ago

makes me wonder whether bananas should be grown where there are monsoon seasons

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Warren Webber
Warren Webber4 years ago

Live long and prosper

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LuLu Kolasa
LuLu Kolasa4 years ago

thanks

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Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Alexandra G.
Alexandra G4 years ago

good to know, thanks

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Rhonda B.
Rhonda B4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Chelsea G.
Chelsea G4 years ago

Thanks.

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