Getting Smarter During Smart Irrigation Month

Guest Co-Author: Deborah M. Hamlin, CEO, Irrigation Association 
Field being watered with pivot irrigation system.

Pivot irrigation systems are one example of irrigation technology at work.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” It is amazing how this statement from the 15th century holds even truer today. As we celebrate July as Smart Irrigation Month, it is important to reflect on agricultural water use and what it means to our society.

At the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Irrigation Association (IA), we recognize that U.S. agriculture uses a lot of water. This is a simple statement right? Well, not really. To some, this is unacceptable; to others it is a way of life. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, if we want our future generations to have a safe and reliable food supply, we have big challenges ahead.

According to the USDA, the United States has more than 55 million acres of farmland irrigated. Agricultural water use accounts for 80 percent of the nation’s consumptive water use.

Crop plants in a field being watered with drip irrigation system.

Drip irrigation enables precise water application on-farm. Photo: Dwight Sipler

No one questions the importance of water management – we all enjoy getting fresh, clean water from our faucets – but how we manage water use in agriculture means a lot to our society, health and environment. As the global population grows and consumes more goods, such as food, clothes and even electronics, coupled with changes in our climate, such as extreme droughts and flooding, our society will push water resources and agricultural production to their limits.

How are we going to meet these challenges?  This is where FFAR and the IA are excited to work together. The mission of the IA is quite simple: promote efficient irrigation. At FFAR, we see the potential that research to advance efficient irrigation brings to the long-term sustainability and productivity of our agricultural system. The opportunities for farmers to implement these new and innovative irrigation technologies and practices are limitless, and we are energized by the speed at which today’s farming community adopts new technology. Just as we have seen advancements in computing and cellular technologies over the past ten years, the advancements in irrigation technologies over this same period are both astonishing and exciting.

As farmers are the first line defenders and stewards of our nation’s natural resources, our organizations are committed to not only advancing and promoting these technologies and practices, but also working with farmers and ranchers to develop solutions to water scarcity, allowing farmers to maximize productivity while not wasting a drop of water.

“Doing more with less” is the marching order we have moving forward. This July…this Smart Irrigation Month…let’s all look for new ways to work together to make sure the water we have goes a long way for everyone.

 

Deborah M. Hamlin, FASAE, CAE

CEO

Irrigation Association

 

Sally Rockey, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity

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Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss

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About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability

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Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems

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The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.