Water is of fundamental importance to agriculture and has significant varied effects on agriculture and beyond globally. A cross-section of interdisciplinary talks from academia, industry, farming, research centers and federal agencies are presented and the Q&A sessions following each module reflected on the issues raised by speakers and audience.
This volume provides an excellent summary of the status of—and challenges inherent in achieving—water sustainability in agriculture. We have a long way to go—we are only in the foothills of Mount Everest. There is a need for more agricultural product through increased yield using less water, a smaller agricultural footprint on water, and an integrated systems approach on national, regional and international scales. We must employ all available tools, including engineering, the physical sciences and the biosciences, while addressing environmental and societal issues.
In the United States we have tremendous potential as a result of high yields and large-scale producers. The western part of the US corn belt produces more than 40% of the world’s corn and soybean. Despite problems and concerns, we expect that high yields will be maintained—even in the face of major shocks—and that our agricultural practices will have acceptable environmental effects. We know that climate change will have an impact, but, because we are resilient, there is the expectation that we will keep producing and feed ourselves. But without serious efforts to curb water use, this expectation may be wrong. And the situation in some countries in the developing world is dire. Collaboration and research are needed to overcome this.
Sullivan, Michael E.; Delp, Walter M. (NABC, 2012)
The NRCS focuses on helping individual landowners implement conservation practices across the landscape and in targeted locations. By providing technical and financial assistance, NRCS in Arkansas is helping people help the land and move toward water sustainability in agriculture.
Irrigated agriculture remains the primary consumptive use of water in the United States; however, population growth, environmental needs and changing societal values are driving a reallocation of water away from agriculture. It is projected that, by 2030, 33 million additional people will be living in the western United States, requiring approximately 30 billion more gallons of water for consumption per year. In much of the semi-arid areas of the world, new water resources will be in limited supply, particularly if remaining watersheds, aquifers and streams are protected from additional withdrawals for crop or livestock production.
Great strides could be made in sustainable natural-resource use from agricultural and societal standpoints with a few relatively simple choices. From an agricultural standpoint, if the goal is to reduce water use and crop yield is improved through biotechnology and innovative practices, then land should be taken out of production. Using the same amount of a resource such as water to produce more will address some of the needs of a growing population, but will not address the limitations of that resource
The assessment providing information for 100 Tyson locations in 22 states indicated that 34 of the locations may be at risk of water scarcity. The assessment provides a tool that can be used as risk analysis; however, these indices account for withdrawal only and not for consumption of water. It is important to evaluate the local water availability to get a more accurate picture of water scarcity at the location level.
More and more demands are being made on our natural resources because of increasing population and because lifestyles are changing. People are consuming more and we must address these increasing demands. The Sustainability Consortium’s objective is to improve decision making for product sustainability throughout the product life cycle.
To grow crops and to feed this country, water is essential. Farmers used to having abundant water must begin to use water-saving devices: just because you have abundant water doesn’t mean you are entitled to use it wastefully. Our challenge as agricultural leaders is to bring this knowledge to the farming community.