According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture:
- Total number of U.S. farm acres: 914,527,657 (Down 8% from 2007)
- Total number of irrigated acres 560,599,000
- Total irrigation withdrawal was 115 billion gallons
In 2010, the national average application rate was 2.07 acre-feet per acre, or 11 percent less than the 2005 average of 2.32 acre-feet per acre. Total irrigation withdrawals were 9 percent less than in 2005.
Peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until leveling off in the early 1970s. About 2.06 million farms are currently in operation. Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector.
Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs. As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output more than doubled between 1948 and 2015.
How important is agriculture in America?
In 2016, the U.S. Farming industry employed more than 2.3 million people on about 2.1 million farms. Many of these farms and employees are in your neighborhood, shopping in your stores and giving back to the community.
While agriculture in America accounts for the majority of water use, efficiency has increased dramatically. You may think after drilling the well, the farmer doesn’t pay anything for water, you would be wrong. On top of spending tens of thousands of dollars to drill a well, only after spending thousands on permitting, the average farmer can expect to pay about .35 cents per 1,000 gallons of water pumped from a well. This is the cost of electricity or fuel. Gaining efficiency is not only good for the environment, it is good for the bottom line.
Today’s farmers and ranchers use weather stations and soil moisture sensors to help determine when and how much to water. This technology has given farmers and ranchers the data needed to make better and more informed decisions when it comes to turning on the pumps.
Other technologies including variable rate irrigation (VRI) has allowed the farmer to maximize the data provided by weather stations and soil moisture sensors and automatically feed this data in center pivot irrigation systems, automatic shut-off valves on pumps, and GPS enabled sprayers on tractors. This technology has easily reduced water use by as much as 15%.
Efficiency does come at a cost, weather stations and soil moisture sensors can cost upward of $3,500 each, automatic shut-off systems in the thousands, and large-scale VRI’s can reach $30,000 per field. But, today’s farmers and ranchers incorporate this technology so the next generation (their children) can continue to feed America.
What can you do to help?
Here are 17 water conservation tips and tricks that are either free or very inexpensive to implement. In fact, many communities around America offer cost-share programs to install water-efficient plumbing.
- Always turn taps off tightly so they do not drip.
- Promptly repair any leaks in and around your taps. (One leak can waste several thousand gallons of water per year.)
- Use an aerator and/or a water flow-reducer attachment on your tap to reduce your water usage.
- When hand-washing dishes, never run water continuously. Wash dishes in a partially filled sink and then rinse them using the spray attachment on your tap.
- If you have an electric dishwasher, use it only to wash full loads, and use the shortest cycle possible. Many dishwashers have a conserver/water-miser cycle.
- When brushing your teeth, turn the water off while you are actually brushing. Use short bursts of water for cleaning your brush. (This saves about 80% of the water normally used.)
- When washing or shaving, partially fill the sink and use that water rather than running the tap continuously. (This saves about 60% of the water normally used.) Use short bursts of water to clean razors.
- Use either low-flow shower heads or adjustable flow-reducer devices on your shower heads. (They reduce flow by at least 25%.)
- You can reduce water usage by 40% to 50% by installing low-flush toilets.
- Wash only full loads in your washing machine.
- Use the shortest cycle possible for washing clothes, and use the “suds-saver” feature if your machine has one.
- Use only cleaning products that will not harm the environment when washed away after use. Look for “environmentally friendly” products when shopping.
- Lawns and gardens require less than ½” of water per day during warm weather. Less is needed during spring, fall, or cool weather.
- Water lawns every three to five days, rather than for a short period every day. In warm weather, apply less than ½” of water for each day since the last watering.
- Water during the cool part of the day, in the morning or evening. Do not water on windy days.
- Do not over-water in anticipation of a shortage. Soil cannot store extra water.
- Use shut-off timers or on-off timers, if possible. Do not turn on sprinklers and leave for the day.
Do you own a business?
Water Conservation at work is not only environmentally friendly, it will save you money. Here are some great resources to help reduce water use at work. https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/waterwork/checklist-restaurant.html
About Danny Kushmer
For Danny, water is a passion. As a third-generation Floridian from South Hillsborough County, Danny grew up farming tropical fish. In 1996 Danny started a farm-raised catfish operation in the Florida panhandle, producing over 50,000 pounds of processed catfish each week. In the late 90’s, he served as the Executive Director for the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce and graduated from the University of Florida’s Wedgworth Leadership Program for Agriculture and Natural Resources. He also wokred for the Southwest Florida Water Management District as [position] for [amount] years.
Danny currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame as Building Committee Chair. He has also previously served on the board of directors for the Bartow Chamber of Commerce, the George Harris Runaway and Crisis Shelter, Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, and the Lakes Education Action Drive which supports improved water quality in Central Florida.