Farmers: The key to our global water crisis

Aaron Citron

Agriculture accounts for more than 80 percent of all water consumed in the United States.

Some people might read that figure and think, “farmers are using all of our water!” But we see it differently. We see potential.

That’s because farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, water conservationists and land stewards. They have been, and continue to be, among the first to develop innovative water efficiency solutions, and they are already implementing a variety of practices to optimize their water use and adapt to drought and climate change.

On World Water Day, it’s important to remember that farmers are key to solving the global water crisis.

Drought a powerful motivator

Farmers are usually the first to feel the impact of drought, often experiencing water shortages before any urban water users are affected. For this reason, they are among the first to adapt, adjusting practices to increase efficiency.

Take Jason Walker, a grain farmer in Arizona who, spurred by drought, laser-leveled 175 acres of his farm, a practice noted to be up to 30-percent more water efficient.

He also lined the ditches that deliver water to his crops. Lined ditches retain up to 90 percent of their water, compared with unlined ditches, which lose up to half their water.

“It’s absolutely our responsibility to conserve our finite resources,” Jason says.

When drought hit Brendon Rockey’s Colorado farm hard seven years ago, he planted cover crops to retain moisture in the soil, which also enhanced the effectiveness of his center pivot irrigation.

Since then, Rockey’s pumping costs have decreased – his cumulative annual consumptive use cut nearly in half – while his crop quality increased.

His neighbors now come to him for advice on maintaining a productive business through drought.

Farmers are a good investment

When you consider the sheer volume of water used in growing crops, adoption of water efficiency practices like these have big potential when taken to scale.

Not only can farmers become more resilient to climate change, but they also have greater flexibility to share water with other sectors. This, in turn, generates revenue for farmers and provides additional benefits to other water users, not to mention rivers.

That’s why we’re hopeful that – through continued investments in agricultural efficiency and flexible infrastructure – farmers will lead us through the global water crisis.

But investments of this kind aren’t just about securing a reliable water supply; they are also about securing a reliable food supply. After all, farmers use water to produce the food that feeds the planet.

We consider that a good investment.

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