Agriculture is the Lifeblood of America, and Water is the Lifeblood of Agriculture

Nicole Grey, US Water Alliance | May 19, 2017

In the US, approximately 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas that encompass less than three percent of our landmass. Conversely, the food, feed, fiber, and fuel on which we all rely is produced on 75 percent of the land where two percent of the population lives. Adopting a One Water approach can help the agriculture sector meet the growing demand for food, increase farmer profitability, and protect the environment and public health.

One of the key strategies for supporting sustainable agriculture systems includes using on-farm methods to reduce water consumption and manage nutrients. Farmers are adopting techniques that keep nutrients in the fields, where crops need them, and out of streams, lakes and rivers.  Technology allows the farming community to increase the efficiency of agricultural water use and reduce nutrient loads. Many on-field practices are gaining traction as well. Cover crops, filter strips, no-till or strip-till farming, and computer-based crop-growth simulation models are becoming increasingly popular. Soil and plant moisture-sensing devices, such as the use of bioreactors, have been estimated to remove 35 to 50 percent of nitrate from water and has shown promising results in the Mississippi River.

Another key component is creating partnerships between upstream and downstream communities. This is central to the long-term preservation of our watersheds, whether through managing developed lands, conserving natural lands, controlling water withdrawals, or managing point and nonpoint discharges. Uniting stakeholders around a common vision and approach can allow everyone to benefit from source water protection, thriving ecosystems, and improved water quality.

Watershed-scale planning and monitoring is also gaining momentum to address the ever-increasing demands for clean water and agricultural products. All stakeholders are under pressure to keep water resources clean, so leaders in the agricultural sector are finding innovative ways to manage soil, water and nutrients. By doing this, they are able to not only have more productive agriculture but also minimize downstream and off-site impacts. Strategies such as predictive watershed modeling are essential to the sustainability of water resources and can aid in adapting to future scenarios.

Agriculture is a crucial part of the American economy and public health, and creating comprehensive solutions to ensure clean water is key. Efforts to increase the efficiency on farms through the use of new technologies and strategies, along with cooperation with all stakeholders in a watershed, will help ensure a sustainable future in agriculture.