The far-reaching influence of irrigation: Boosting economic growth and job creation

Smart irrigation creates jobs here in the United States and provides technical and vocational jobs that keep our communities thriving.
BY LUKE REYNOLDS
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The Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, is highlighting the value of smart irrigation through Smart Irrigation Month this July. The initiative was created to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation. This year’s theme, “What’s the value of smart irrigation?” allows the IA to tell the irrigation industry’s story about how smart irrigation products, technologies and practices are having a positive and beneficial impact on our lives and communities. Smart Irrigation Month is sponsored by HydroPoint.

The irrigation industry has a significant impact on the economy in the United States with its indirect and induced impacts, totaling nearly $23.3 billion per year, according to a 2020 study. Smart irrigation will continue to drive growth in the sector, including creating more jobs as the need for thoughtful management of water resources becomes more imperative due to climate change, experts say. 

What smart irrigation brings to the economic landscape 

According to Nathan Bowen, Irrigation Association advocacy and public affairs vice president, the impact the industry has on the economy goes beyond what is seen on paper.  

“When we examine the macroeconomic impact, it’s crucial to remember that these figures represent not just dollars and cents, but also livelihoods and the well-being of individuals, families and communities,” says Bowen. “The irrigation industry presents a host of dynamic careers that continue to evolve as irrigation companies innovate to meet the needs of end users.” 

In 2021, the Irrigation Association, in partnership with the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, commissioned a survey that estimated the size of the irrigation industry at the time in terms of annual sales of equipment and related services.  

It notes that the industry had an estimated 70,000 industry-wide jobs resulting in a total impact of over 167,000 jobs at the time the report was published. 

The report also estimates irrigation’s economic impact —  $23.3 billion per year — which is a sizeable financial driver, says Bowen.  

“The irrigation industry’s significant annual impact reflects its pivotal role in driving growth, fostering job creation, and supporting the economic impact of related sectors,” he says. “From agriculture to landscaping, water management to technology innovation, irrigation serves as a vital catalyst for economic prosperity and sustainable development.” 

The study’s principal researcher, George Oamek, PhD, told Irrigation Today in April of 2022 that a lot of the demand reflected in the report was due to high prices and the advancement of technology that was driving growers to invest. 

“You just can’t put irrigation systems up fast enough,” he said. “There’s such a demand right now. The driver for the irrigation equipment for crops is crop prices, and crop prices are on a real high right now. There’s a huge pent-up demand for replacement irrigation equipment and new precision irrigation equipment all over, from what I can tell. The first generation of center pivots are starting to wear out at this point, so we’re looking at a second generation of center pivots. They have technology packages associated with them that have compatibility with remote sensing and other high-tech equipment.” 

The prices of crops adjust due to a number of factors, but the fact is that the technology that growers are deploying in their fields is a consistent trend that’s creating more opportunity, says Amy Kremen, associate director of Irrigation Innovation Consortium. 

Kremen highlights the increasing potential for job creation as the need for upgraded and maintained systems grows in response to evolving practices and technologies. 

“I think that there’s also a huge opportunity in the sense that a lot of the systems that are out there, it’s 20th-century irrigation,” says Kremen. “I think there’s a huge number of systems out there that need to be audited. They need a good look in terms of how they’ve been installed, what condition they’re in, and how optimized their function is. So there’s a huge workforce training development opportunity there for people to audit these systems and to actually be able to understand really what the fixes are and what the priority fixes are in time.” 

Kremen says there is work to be done on the integrative side of the hardware, including ensuring that all of the systems growers are using can talk to each other and adjust depending on changing conditions. If that happens, there is opportunity for economic growth and that will be shown on future irrigation economic impact reports. 

“What I would really hope to see is that more of these kinds of things are being sold and used and adopted because we’ve done the integrative work that needs to be done on the hardware,” she says. “If we’ve done that, then yes, I think the report will come back next time, probably with even bigger numbers.” 

Luke Reynolds is the content editor for Irrigation Today and can be reached via email.

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