Water’s immeasurable value is not lost on Western producers. Farmers and ranchers throughout the West confront limited water supplies due to long-standing semi-arid and arid agro-climatic conditions, severe drought, over allocation, and increased competition from non-agricultural users. They also contend with rising numbers of policies and regulations and the need to manage for the protection of threatened and endangered species. To maintain profitability and yields, producers are looking to alternative irrigation methods or switching to low water-use crops. Water policy experts and producers together must review how current water policy might be revised to enhance agricultural water sustainability. Effective policies, along with proven Best Management Practices, will be required for agriculture to remain economically viable in a region facing further water scarcity over time.
Research presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in 2013 said the west has possibly been in a mega-drought for the past 13 years, and the likelihood is high that this century could see a multi-decade dry spell like nothing else seen over the past 1,000 years. Climate change further exacerbates the West’s drought conditions and water uncertainty. Addressing climate change, the USDA states “today’s climate is an important driver of current conservation program outcomes. Perhaps in no aspect of climate is this influence greater than in the risk of drought.”
Western SARE has played a key role in addressing the water research needs of our region’s farmers and ranchers by funding high quality research conducted in collaboration with producers. This publication highlights five Western SARE-funded initiatives in the areas of low water use crops, partial root zone drying techniques, efficient water use technologies, and linking farmer-friendly water use efficiency programs to achieve state water policy goals.