Water is utilized to produce food – May 2014

At a recent presentation I heard a water fact mentioned along the lines that approximately 84 percent of the water used in Wyoming is used by agriculture. 

I’ve heard these types of figures before and I’ve seen several anti-agriculture type articles mention something similar.  Of course, those groups make it sound like the agricultural community is just sucking up the water out of spite for other users.

However, I propose a better statement.  Eighty-four percent of the water used in Wyoming is utilized to produce food.  That, in my opinion, puts things in a much different light.  One which more clearly defines the issue so non-agriculture folks can understand that the water used for agriculture is going for one thing and one thing only –  food production.  Very little food would be produced in an arid state like Wyoming absent the use of that water.  That water is utilized to produce crops either for consumption directly by humans or indirectly by livestock which end up in the meat counter at the grocery store.

Another aspect of this deals with the modern concept of specialization.  Several centuries ago men had to be knowledgeable about a whole host of things.  The carpenter not only had to know how to build a house, but he also had to know how to cut the trees, saw the boards, lay the hearth and a whole host of other items.  As time went by the carpenter needed to know less about cutting down and sawing up trees than the sawyer.  The carpenter would rely upon the stone mason to lay the hearth and probably called upon his friend the blacksmith to supply him with nails etc.

Agriculture has advanced along the same lines.  Crop producers have learned how to use water more efficiently because as they practiced their art, they discovered that certain techniques resulted in more efficient use of water and tools such as center pivots could provide a better application of the water.  Today, variable rate applications can be targeted towards different soil types to even more efficiently apply the water.

Let’s imagine then that the agricultural producer just went away.  Instead of building houses the carpenter would also have to learn how to plant crops and/or raise livestock in addition to his other duties.  Instead of building several houses he would more than likely only be able to build one or perhaps two since he would need to tend the crops.  Of course, since building houses would be something he was good at and enjoyed, it would be doubtful he would study the agricultural aspect and learn the finer points so instead of decreasing the use of water to grow food, the opposite might likely occur.

More water would be used by the carpenter to grow less food for him and his family all the while keeping him from doing something he was truly good at; building houses.

At the end of the day those folks who are good at growing crops and/or livestock do a better job of it than the carpenter would.  The agriculture person would also grow enough to feed the sawyer, the stone mason and the blacksmith while using less water and resources than any of those individuals.

So in the end, saying that agriculture consumes a majority of the water in Wyoming is no more accurate than saying that carpenters consume a majority of the wood.  Both on their surface may be accurate but both statements convey the wrong concepts.  Looking at the issue with that different light; Eighty-four percent of the water used in Wyoming is utilized to produce food and that is good for us all.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

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