As far north as Idaho, this satellite view of a portion of the Snake River shows the richness of water irrigation systems to provide agricultural food stocks for our growing population. However we must remind ourselves of the important need to be stewards of our environment by not allow polluting chemicals to reduce our fish stocks.

Agriculturally food stocks are dwindling at a rapid rate, crops wither and die never getting to market, those that do increase the costs in our shopping cart. Farmers to survive, must increase their cost of operations by building a huge infrastructure for irrigation, many of these costs are passed onto the tax payer through government subsidies, and increased costs of food supplies. That huge infrastructure I mentioned is responsible for an insurmountable amount of ecological damage to the planet. …More Streams and then rivers dry up as the water table is sucked dry, some of these rivers never reach the lakes or oceans as they used to. And those waters that do reach their deltas are so low and concentrated with pollutants that the water that does arrive is poisonous to the marine life. Whole highways and even homes are swallowed up because cavernous aquifers once filled with water which actually supported the earth above them, were pumped dry and became fragile enough to collapse creating a sinkhole. Agricultural losses are supplemented by natural disasters such as droughts. We cannot control droughts as readily as we can control our water usage and its cleanliness.

Fact: An acre of corn first absorbs and gives off 4000 gallons of water a day through transpiration and evaporation and is called evapotranspiration. And about 4000 gallons of water are needed to grow one bushel of corn per season.

Water use chart

More Crop Per Drop
By Chris Mayer

Around the world, as grain inventories continue to dwell near historic lows, farmers look for ways to boost yield (or to get more out of their acreage). We need to boost food production by 60% over the next 20 years to meet the needs of a growing world population. So predicts the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. One way to boost yield is to use fertilizers, which have become absolutely critical to global food supply. Another way is to use better seeds. A third way is irrigation.

It’s this third way that interests us for the moment. Irrigated land is far more productive than non-irrigated land. According to the FAO, irrigation boosts yields 100%-400% for most crops. Developing countries irrigate only 20% of their arable land. Yet those lands produce around 40% of all crops and close to 60% of cereal production.

There are three basic ways to irrigate. You can do it the old-fashioned flood plain way, which is the most inefficient. In your mind’s eye, imagine the rows of the crops with little canals of water between them. The second way is by drip irrigation. This is the most expensive per acre. It is much more water efficient, though, with 90%-95% of the water hitting the crops and little runoff. You may have seen this system in vineyards or orchards, with the little drippers coming on now and then like in a grocery store produce section.

The third way is the preferred choice for large fields of 80 acres or more. Mechanized irrigation, as the name implies, is when you have machines roll through and efficiently water crops as they pass. There are center pivot machines, lateral move machines, corner machines, etc. All of them are highly efficient and allow for little or no runoff of water.

Using pivots for example, instead of flood irrigation, can cut water usage in half – i.e. “more crop per drop.” Mechanized irrigation accomplishes two important objectives. It boosts yields, producing more crops per acre. And it uses dwindling water resources more efficiently.

In fact, I’ve heard good arguments from informed sources that the world is not facing a food crisis, as much as it is facing a water crisis. In other words, it takes a great deal of water to keep everyone fed, yet we face acute water shortages in areas where the populations are greatest. About a fifth of the world’s population lives in areas where water is relatively scarce.

And because agriculture wastes so much water, there is plenty of room to improve water-use efficiency. As The Economist reports: “As much as 70% of the water used by farmers never gets to crops, perhaps lost through leaky irrigation channels or by draining into rivers or groundwater.”

So naturally, if you’re looking to conserve water, agriculture is the first place you look. And we are trying to conserve water in the American West. So too are people in China and Spain and throughout the Middle East. In Australia, parts of Africa, India and other places – people are looking to conserve water.

The typical person consumes about 800 gallons of water per year. That includes the water that goes into making your food. The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) says that we’ll need to come up with about 25% more water to feed the world’s growing population. That means finding new water sources and bringing them to market or using existing water supplies more efficiently. This is exactly what mechanized irrigation does.

The use of fertilizers and better seeds is widespread. Mechanized irrigation is in its infancy by comparison. Only 12% of all U.S. farmland uses any irrigation at all. Of these, only 40% use mechanized irrigation.  In other words, only about 5% of American farmland uses mechanized irrigation. Worldwide, this percentage is even smaller – all of which means there is an enormous potential market out there in converting dry land to mechanized irrigation.

The use of mechanized irrigation has been growing rapidly, though. It’s growing fast because the economics are compelling. The pivots make your farmland more productive than before, boosting your yield, as I’ve pointed out. That means more sales and profits for the farmer. A center pivot irrigation system pays for itself in less than three years. Center pivot irrigation is also viable for a number of different crops, so it’s not hostage to the fortunes of any single crop.

 Sprinklers per crop chart

There is a second component to the story. There is a big replacement market out there. To put it another way, there is already an installed base of machines. In North America alone, there are over 200,000 pivots already installed. About half of them are more than 10 years old. They need parts and service. There are retrofits and improvements. This is a good business for the makers of the machines.

So it’s a long-term growth story pulled by demand from the emerging and U.S. markets. The prime motivation is to conserve water and boost yields. And it is also a market with a growing base of installed systems providing a sound underpinning for continued parts and service.

It’s this third way that can provide us with a solution; Rainwater Harvesting. As Chris Mayer said; Irrigated land is far more productive than non-irrigated land.

Rainwater harvesting and even greywater collection could be very beneficial when used for irrigation for our crop lands.Red barn

Some farming communities could capture Rainwater from Livestock barns, corral sheds, tractor and equipment barns, this water could be piped to a holding pond or underground water storage tanks for irrigation uses.Crop Sprinkling

Out on the range, Rainwater could be harvested on roofs of livestock shelters, to supplement wind powered water wells. These resources could supply livestock with another water source during droughts, even with the use of water tankers on pickup trucks.Cattle n Wind mill

This is a win-win situation because it’s a local resource, and yet much of the irrigation will still end up regenerating the water table.

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