Ag water use declining

A new study shows that between 1995 and 2010, water use in the United States for agriculture decreased.
EDITED BY ANNE BLANKENBILLER
Ag water use

Water use in the United States for agriculture decreased for most crops and livestock production over a 15-year period, according to a new research released by the University of Illinois.

A comprehensive University of Illinois study looked at water withdrawals in U.S. agriculture and food production from 1995 to 2010. The main trend was a decline in water use, driven by a combination of factors.

“Overall, the use of water for irrigation decreased by 8.3% over this period,” says Sandy Dall’erba, regional economist at the university and co-author on the study. According to Dall’erba, a number of drivers contributed to reduced water use in grains, fruits and vegetables, namely improved irrigation systems, domestic per-capita income and sales to the food processing industry.

The study report also noted that oil crops have experienced a 98% increase in water demand over the period. The change is primarily driven by international supply-chain linkages. It means foreign companies, mostly in China, have purchased large amounts of U.S. oilseed crops for further processing.

In conducting this research, Dall’erba and co-author Andre Avelino performed a structural decomposition analysis, looking at 18 factors that drive U.S. water withdrawals across eight crops, six livestock categories and 11 food manufacturing industries. Based on data from Exiobase, a global supply-chain database, their analysis included water that’s embedded into the production at all stages of the domestic and international supply chain, from crops and livestock to processed food production­ – highlighting the interconnectedness of global agribusiness. For example, crops produced in the United States may rely on fertilizers produced in a different country. Similarly, soybeans produced in the U.S. could be used for food processing in China, or to feed livestock in Europe.

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