Will we have enough water to grow food for everyone in the future?
A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois shows that the amount of water used in the production of agricultural products in the United States has decreased in the period from 1995 to 2010. During that time period, water use for crops declined by 8.3 percent, while water use for livestock declined by 14 percent.
Some of the trends associated with this decreasing water use in the agricultural industry are the introduction of more efficient irrigation systems, use of more drought-resistant crops, and more demand for chicken and pork products over beef.
This is positive news in a time when water scarcity is becoming more and more of an issue. The agricultural industry in the United States is the second-largest user of water (behind the electricity industry), with most of that water being used for irrigation.
Water also plays a big part in the food processing and manufacturing industries, with food production as a whole using about one-third of water withdrawals of surface water and groundwater in the United States.
A large source of water decline in the livestock industry is the general shift in consumer demand from red meat to white. Beef, which is typically the most expensive meat, also uses the most water for production. Chicken, which requires 3.5 times less water per pound of production, has been embraced as an alternative to beef, especially during economic recessions and times where the processing of beef has stalled, such as in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shut many meat processors down.
Water use has also decreased for crops like cereal grains, fruits, and vegetables, as more efficient irrigation systems have been introduced.
This reduction in overall water use in the agricultural industry is promising, and will hopefully be seen across other water-reliant industries.
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