Last month, Cargill announced their commitment to reducing water waste and restoring water supplies across the world. In addition to eliminating 11 million pounds of water pollutants and providing access to safe drinking water, they are working to restore 159 billion gallons of water to priority watersheds by 2030.
They are doing this through a multi-faceted approach. To reduce water waste, they are utilizing smart irrigation technology that improves the accuracy of delivery and reacts to weather and soil conditions. This also prevents excess runoff and overwatering of crops.
Cargill is working with numerous organizations to integrate these efforts including Ohio State University, Iowa Soybean Association, Quantified Ventures, and more to help bring systematic changes to the industry.
As one of the largest agricultural companies in the world, Cargill’s actions have a major impact on our environment. By improving their own systems and committing to change, they hope to inspire the rest of industry to follow in their footsteps.
Agricultures Impact on Our Water
Left unchecked, modern farming practices can take a toll on local water reserves and natural bodies of water. In fact, 80% of our nations water is used for agriculture, with some states reaching as high as 90%. As more areas of the US face water shortages, efficiently using water becomes increasingly important.
High water usage is costly for both our environment and farmers themselves. Excessive and inefficient irrigation increases runoff, raises expenses, reduces water availability, decreases crop yields, and harms local wildlife habitat. Though irrigation is necessary for certain farmland, especially in western states, there are ways of limiting its need and reducing wasted water.
However, water usage is only part of the problem.
Agriculture is one of the primary contributors of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. NPS pollution is the result of land runoff, precipitation, drainage, seepage, and general deposition of pollutants into water supplies. Approximately a half a ton of pesticides, 4 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer, and 12 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer are applied to US farmland every year. These chemicals are washed away by rain and irrigation, depositing nitrates and other harmful nutrients into local water supplies.
Agricultural NPS pollution is a leading source of river, stream, lake, and groundwater contamination. In fact, one recent test found pesticide in 94% of water samples taken from streams across the country. Runoff from US farms is also believed to be one of the primary causes of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. These contaminants result in unnatural algae growth, reduce stream flows, endanger aquatic life, threaten fish-eating wildlife, and contaminate drinking water supplies.
Whether or not a farm uses irrigation, runoff is a problem all farmers face. Though Cargill is taking significant steps in the right direction, it is the responsibility of the industry as a whole to address water usage and protect water quality.
One way farmers and landowners can potentially improve water retention, protect against runoff, and reduce the need for irrigation is by enrolling in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program. CRP provides market-based rental payments in exchange for taking marginal land out of production and establishing native vegetation. This helps protect and nurture soil while reducing water runoff. Additionally, CRP seed doesn’t require fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation to thrive.
Through CRP, farmers can restore soil health and help improve our nation’s water availability, all while continuing to earn money on the land. Make sure to look for our next post when we dive deeper into the benefits of CRP for protecting local water supplies.