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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