Taking Stock On World Water Day
By Cyndie Sirekis
The 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ World Water Day (March 22) is an appropriate time to reflect on the achievements of U.S. farmers in caring for the environment and water resources.
Reducing water use and improving water quality continue to be important goals for farmers and ranchers in growing crops and raising animals for food. Overall, farmers are producing more food using fewer natural resources, particularly water.
Research conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows farmers have become 28 percent more efficient in water use over the last decade and 49 percent more efficient over the last five years. Other studies consistently reveal farmers are producing more bushels of crops using the same amount or less water.
Seed innovations have played a major role in reducing the amount of water needed to grow crops. Both conventional breeding techniques and genetic modification are making crops less water-dependent. Some drought-tolerant seed varieties already are available to farmers but more research is needed.
Farmers are continuously improving the way they use water to irrigate crops. Customizing water application to soil and seed needs results in less wasted water. And innovative tools such as drip tape irrigation pipes laid along the ground, used by fruit and vegetable farmers, reduce evaporation and use less water than flood irrigation.
The timing of irrigation for specific crops has been studied extensively with the goal of avoiding overwatering. Armed with the most up-to-date research findings and technologies, farmers can now precisely apply irrigation water to crops, when growing plants are best able to use it.
The philosophy of “Reduce, reuse, recycle,” in place on America’s farms and ranches for decades, is more evident than ever before. Capturing and reusing water used in raising animals and growing crops is just one example among many.
U.S. beef cattle production has long been inaccurately characterized as water-wasteful. But analysis by Washington State University researchers of how ranchers use water to raise cattle revealed that compared to 1977, every pound of beef produced today requires 14 percent less water.
Clearly, the trend of farmers and ranchers working harder (and smarter) to use less water as they produce food for American consumers and customers around the world shows no sign of slowing down. That’s worth celebrating on World Water Day and every day. Find worldwide events and other information on World Water Day here.
(Cyndie Sirekis is director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.)
© 2013 American Farm Bureau Federation