Trends in U.S. irrigated agriculture: Increasing resilience under water supply scarcity


Growing urban populations and economic development intensify competition for the nation’s water resources. With surface water supplies largely allocated in most river basins of the Western United States and some river basins in the Eastern United States, emerging water demands from non-agricultural sectors must be met in many cases through a reallocation of water initially allocated to agriculture.

Meanwhile, changing climate regimes — through increased evaporative losses, seasonal shifts in precipitation patterns, reduced snowpack and snowmelt runoff, and higher frequency and severity of droughts — have reduced water supplies during the crop growing season. At the same time, groundwater pumping in excess of natural recharge has substantially diminished aquifer resources critical to agriculture in regions where, and when, surface water is less abundant. Increasing competition for water, coupled with increasingly constrained water supply trends, have important implications for the viability and resiliency of the irrigated agricultural sector. How the sector adapts to these trends will shape the future of irrigated agriculture and the value it creates for the greater agricultural economy.

Irrigated agriculture — a critically important component of the U.S. farm economy — expanded significantly over the last century, as public reclamation policy initiatives and technological innovations opened new lands to irrigated production.

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