…because apparently they have an issue with irrigated agriculture – how a huge percentage of food nation-wide is grown. It is unfortunate that individuals at such a prestigious publication, upon which thousands of people rely for quality news, decided to publish an article blaming farmers for increased water consumption and lowering aquifer levels.
If the journalist writing the article had done complete research on both sides of the issue, he would have found a very different story. Here in the West, farmers have faced water shortages for decades, and would be in even greater trouble if not for the high-technology irrigation equipment many farmers were able to purchase with help for the government under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of 1995.
It does not take much more than common sense to realize that increased water consumption is a result of increased demand around the world for agricultural products like food, fuel, fibers and animal feed. Increased demand = increased production = increased water usage. Oh, and that’s on decreased land, since The American Farmland Trust estimates we are losing an acre of farmland every minute.
Some research would have also found this information, from the 2009 U.S. Geological Survey: “even though the amount of irrigated acres throughout the United States has increased over time, irrigation application rates decreased steadily from 1950 to 2005.” And this, from the USDA’s Economic Research Service: “the U.S. water application rate in irrigated agriculture declined by 20% between 1969 and 2003.”
Farmers know water is their most necessary resource, and take huge pains to conserve it. I haven’t ever met a farmer who has a cavalier attitude about his water usage. Most farmers have active water conservation programs, and use increasing technology to save water.
This article prompted a response by a coalition of ag groups contradicting the statements from the NYT. Their editorial can be read here. They defend America’s farmers and ranchers, and point to several government-issued reports refuting the claims that farmers waste water.
Irrigated agriculture is a necessity, not a luxury; if we want to eat, anyway. Irrigated agriculture is a huge industry, bringing in billions of dollars and sending out billions of bushels and pounds of food across the world. Farmers need to be supported and applauded for what they do year-in and year-out, not criticized for using water…to grow food!
While the research articles the NYT journalist used to base his article on did indeed find that increased irrigation was indeed lowering water table levels in some areas, that is where his article ended. It gave readers the dangerous misconception that farmers are not paying attention to this resource and are wasting water, which is far, far from the truth. The truth is that drought conditions + increased demand for ag products world-wide = lowered water table levels.
New York Times – please make sure your journalists offer both sides of a story in their articles to avoid misleading your readers into believing that farmers aren’t taking care of our resources!