Yuma Ag and You: Agriculture Water Use

The question: Why do you use so much water?

Agriculture answers: Why do you eat so much?

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott      Aug. 30, 2015

Agricultures use of water is continually being questioned in this age of drought, population increase and weather changes. Julie Murphee, Communications Director for the Arizona Farm Bureau put together answers to many of the questions commonly seen in today’s media.

Why are farmers growing alfalfa? That’s not food…is it? Actually, you and I do need alfalfa for food. While one link up in the food supply chain since cows eat it, you want them to so you can keep obtaining the wide array of dairy products including milk, the now-famous Greek Yogurt and cheese. Beef cattle love alfalfa too. Did you know that alfalfa is grown more efficiently in Arizona than any other state in the union? This is mainly due to our climate and our ability to control water and fertilizer applications to alfalfa fields in a precise, efficient way.

Hay does use a lot of water, but then so does every living organism. Human blood is 92 percent water, our brain and muscles are 75 percent water and even bones are almost one quarter water. Plants are 90 percent water. All of this water excludes the water plants and animals need to live and grow. You just can’t get away from water. Growing food requires water just as growing you does. With our year-round growing season, we also have year-long water use. Your swimming pool, pond or the Colorado River lose about 6 feet of water per year due to evaporation.

What are the farmers doing to save water, since cities are working at it? A quick reminder, cities could not even exist without farming and ranching. Very specifically, we wouldn’t event have the infrastructure in this state, were it not for the pioneer farmers who created the first irrigation districts, obtained the oldest water rights on the Colorado River and continued to upgrade and improve the natural resource base to create the multibillion dollar agricultural industry we now have in Yuma County. The towns built up where the agriculture created jobs, products and money! Farmers in Yuma have been decreasing water use way ahead of the cities for decades. Specifically, where cotton crops required six to eight feet of water per acre (agriculture’s water measurement) to grow a single acre of cotton, it is half that today because of improved plant varieties and improved water management techniques.

Urban dwellers think ‘Thank goodness the farmers will lose water first…since they are using most of it…Agriculture is a sponge’. Our food is a sponge, just like us. You and I eat, therefore plants and animals must be watered and we get watered when we eat them. Using water makes farming possible and makes the rest of what we do possible.

Agricultural producers do not get water for free, they pay for it. Like any business agriculture will do everything it can to save water. You may find this ironic, but because Arizona produces some of the most water efficient ag products in the world by using the latest technology, not to mention the latest food safety techniques, ‘buying Arizona’ is a great way to save water.

It is hard to find another industry that works as hard to use water as efficiently as the agricultural community. No farms-No Food. No water, no Farms!

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at rjsm09@msn.com.