Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement

USDA study identifies challenges, trends for agricultural irrigation

Email

WILLMAR -- This year's drought has been a vivid reminder of how important water is in terms of agricultural production. And regardless of its source -- rainfall, surface water, melting snowpack or groundwater -- water is as essential to crop production as sunlight and carbon dioxide. But the need for water extends far beyond agricultural production purposes.

Advertisement

From a holistic perspective, we know that life on this planet would not be possible without water. But water is also a fundamental natural resource upon which societies, economies and nations are built. And as populations increase and economies grow, so does the demand for water--sometimes reaching a point where competition for the use of this vital and often limited resource leads to conflict.

Those competing demands for water, and especially water used for agricultural irrigation, were the focus of a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the study titled "Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands," USDA researchers Glenn Schaible and Marcel Aillery provide some of the latest data and trends regarding agricultural irrigation. They also outlined some of the challenges that agriculture faces during a period of ever increasing demands for a limited supply of water.

Based on the findings from several national surveys and other available data regarding irrigation and water usage, the researchers provided the following facts regarding irrigated agriculture in the United States:

n It's estimated that agriculture accounts for 80 to 90 percent of our nation's consumptive water use -- water lost to the environment by evaporation, crop transpiration or incorporation into agricultural products.

n Based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture, irrigated farms accounted for $118.5 billion or roughly 40 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural pro

WILLMAR -- This year's drought has been a vivid reminder of how important water is in terms of agricultural production. And regardless of its source -- rainfall, surface water, melting snowpack or groundwater -- water is as essential to crop production as sunlight and carbon dioxide. But the need for water extends far beyond agricultural production purposes.

From a holistic perspective, we know that life on this planet would not be possible without water. But water is also a fundamental natural resource upon which societies, economies and nations are built. And as populations increase and economies grow, so does the demand for water--sometimes reaching a point where competition for the use of this vital and often limited resource leads to conflict.

Those competing demands for water, and especially water used for agricultural irrigation, were the focus of a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the study titled "Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands," USDA researchers Glenn Schaible and Marcel Aillery provide some of the latest data and trends regarding agricultural irrigation. They also outlined some of the challenges that agriculture faces during a period of ever increasing demands for a limited supply of water.

Based on the findings from several national surveys and other available data regarding irrigation and water usage, the researchers provided the following facts regarding irrigated agriculture in the United States:

- It's estimated that agriculture accounts for 80 to 90 percent of our nation's consumptive water use -- water lost to the environment by evaporation, crop transpiration or incorporation into agricultural products.

- Based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture, irrigated farms accounted for $118.5 billion or roughly 40 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural production. Nationwide, the average value of production for an irrigated farm was more than three times the average value for a non-irrigated farm.

- Nearly 57 million acres were irrigated across the United States in 2007. That represents about 7.5 percent of all cropland and pastureland in our nation. However, roughly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture was located in the 17 Western states.

- Based on the 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, irrigated agriculture across the Western states applied 24 trillion gallons of water for crop production, with 52 percent of the water originating from surface-water sources and 48 percent pumped from wells that draw from local and regional aquifers.

The researchers also noted that the demands on agricultural water supplies are likely to increase over time as alternative nonfarm uses of water continue to grow. One such example is the expanding biofuels sector, which is expected to significantly increase water demands.

While substantial technological innovation has increased the efficiency of irrigated agriculture over the past several decades, the statistical data cited in the study and provided below would clearly indicate that significant potential exists for continued improvement:

- Approximately $2.15 billion was invested in irrigation systems in 2008, a 92 percent increase over investments in 2003. However, at least half of the irrigated cropland acreage across the United States is still irrigated with less efficient, traditional irrigation application systems.

- Less than 10 percent of the irrigated farms use advanced water management decision tools, such as soil or plant-moisture testing devices, commercial irrigation-scheduling services, or computer-based crop-growth simulation models.

- Most agricultural irrigation investment is financed privately, with less than 10 percent of farms reporting that financing of irrigation improvements in 2008 was through public financial assistance programs.

- Nearly 57 percent of the farms that received financial assistance for irrigation technology adoption did so through the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program. However, the number of farms utilizing the program represented only about 4 percent of all farms making irrigation improvements in 2008.

A key final conclusion of the study was that the sustainability of irrigated agriculture may depend partly on the willingness and ability of producers to adopt irrigation production systems that more effectively integrate improved water management practices with efficient irrigation application systems.

To view the entire study and its findings, visit USDA's Economic Research Service website at www.ers.usda.gov.

USDA forecasts continued strong farm exports

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest export forecast for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 indicates a level of U.S. agricultural exports unmatched in our nation's history.

Despite this year's reductions in crop production due to extreme weather conditions, U.S. agriculture is expected to achieve three consecutive years of record export sales.

Exports of U.S. food and agricultural products are expected to reach $143.5 billion in fiscal year 2013, well above the record set in 2011. At the same time, the forecast for fiscal year 2012 has been revised upward to a near record of $136.5 billion.

Since 2009, U.S. agricultural exports have made gains of 50 percent.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
randomness