Protecting Water Supplies Through Agriculture

Water is one of our most precious resources, second only to the air we breathe. While we’ve generally had an abundance of fresh, useable water across the US, that has slowly been changing. Freshwater usage has tripled in the last 50 years, and it only continues to riseMeanwhile, water shortages are becoming increasingly common in America.  

Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nebraska are currently experiencing the greatest shortagesNew Mexico is in the most critical state, facing scarcity on par with the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and Eritrea in Africa . In the next decade, as many as 40 states could be facing water shortages. By 2071, nearly half of our water basins may be unable to meet demand.  

The cleanliness of available water plays an important role in this as well. Protecting our existing water supplies is not only an important part of fighting future shortages, but it helps keep Americans safe. As many as 63 million Americans have been exposed to unsafe water. 

When clean, usable water becomes scarce, farmers are among the first to be impacted. After all, 80% of our water is used for agriculture. This is why many ag leaders are taking action in combatting water waste and protecting water quality. Last week, we discussed Cargill’s new water initiative. Today, we’d like to look at some of the most effective ways modern farmers and landowners can help protect water in the US. 

Better Irrigation 

Though water is used across farms in a number of ways, irrigation is the primary source of overall water use, as well as general waste. The EPA currently estimates that 50% of water is wasted in irrigation. With the implementation of newer irrigation technology, water waste can be significantly reduced. Weather sensors are a great first step in smarter irrigation technology, automatically stopping irrigation from taking place when it’s raining.  

However, soil-moisture measurement has been shown to be considerably more effective in improving efficiency. Soil moisture sensors could provide up to 72% in irrigation savingsCurrently, 96 US water basins are facing shortages. Reducing our water irrigation usage by 2% could save a third of these basins from running out of water. 

Keeping Water Clean 

Though combating water waste is critical in protecting our water supplies, we also need to preserve the quality of our available water. Water pollution is often correlated with factories, general waste disposal, and sewage systems, agriculture is one of the leading causes of water pollutionThis largely stems from soil that’s washed off of fields. The soil ends up in local water supplies, depositing contaminants such as nitrogenphosphorus, and more.  

Contaminants from farmland has shown to reduce water quality, kills aquatic life, harm native wildlife, and pose a risk to humans in the area. 

There are various methods farmers can employ to reduce deposits and control water runoff. Marginal land is typically the most atrisk for runoff, as its soil is typically loose and less capable of absorbing water. The best way for farmers to combat this may be to take the land out of active production and enroll it in the Conservation Reserve Program.  

Land enrolled in CRP has shown to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff by 95% and 85% respectively. Additionally, it helps restore health to your soil and provide habitat for wildlife.  Though all CRP practices help protect water in some way, CPs under the Clear Initiative prioritize water quality by reducing sediment loadings, nutrient loadings, and harmful algal blooms.  

A newer practice that falls under CRP CLEAR is CP-43- Prairie Strip PracticeCP-43 is somewhat unique in that rather than taking an entire field out of production, native prairie strips are placed within farm crops. By just converting 10% of a crop field into native prairie strips, farms can experience a 44% reduction in water runoff, 90% reduction in phosphorus runoff, and 84% reduction in nitrate runoff 

Whichever practice you choose, CRP is a great way to protect our water supplies while continuing to earn a profit on your land. If you’re ready to establish CRP, FDCE can help. We provide full-service CRP solutions that include buying CRP seed mixes, planting, herbicide application, and documentation. We even handle report submission to FSA.  

With CRP’s cost share reimbursement, our services practically pay for themselves. Still, if you prefer to establish CRP on your own, you can buy the same CRP seed we use from our sister company, All Native Seed.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us directly. We’re here to help ensure you have a successful CRP establishment. 

 Together, we can work to protect our nation’s most important resources.