Farmers have always been particularly attuned to the forces of nature – it’s in the job description, after all. When the regularity of growing seasons collides with the irregularity of extreme conditions like droughts, floods, windstorms, the American farming community is motivated to innovate and conserve.
For years, farmers have been leveraging the collective power of research and promotion programs to invest in research that improves on-farm practices through both innovation and conservation. Their efforts, with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has resulted in significant water and soil conservation, safeguarding our land for future generations.
Critical among these practices is smart irrigation. Almond growers in California have funded 71 irrigation projects over a 32-year period. Through these projects, growers have learned that micro-drip irrigation not only uses much less water than older methods, but also generates more vigorous plant growth. With the targeted distribution and uniformity, this increases crop production.
Almond growers are not alone in exploring more efficient water usage. In the last 30 years of implementing research-based advances in irrigation techniques, soybean farmers have reduced irrigation water use by more than 40 percent per bushel.
As of 2008, only 4 percent of U.S. cotton harvested acres required irrigation to grow, explaining in part why cotton accounts for only about 3 percent of the agricultural water use in the U.S. In fact, cotton is often grown because it is the only crop sufficiently drought tolerant to grow without irrigation in areas that receive minimal rainfall, such as West Texas.
On-farm water consumption has also decreased significantly. From 1944 to 2007, the dairy industry reduced 65 percent of water used per gallon of milk produced. This means that on-farm dairy water use dropped to only 0.19 percent of total U.S. water withdrawal.
American egg producers have also done their part to use less water. Researchers conducted a lifecycle analysis of U.S. egg production from 1960 to 2010 to evaluate environmental performance, and found that the volume of water conserved on modern hen farms would fill 3,716 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Through agricultural promotion groups – founded and funded by the farmers and industry stakeholders themselves – American producers continue to strive for innovation that will help preserve our natural resources for generations to come.