Water Usage in Food Production

land in drought

The vast majority of the clean water that humans use is dedicated to agriculture.

Irrigation plays a large part in this water consumption. Irrigation, as with many aspects of agriculture, is a double-edged sword. With the systems that we have in place, it is the best possible way to feed our population. However, it is unsustainable. It is critically important that human beings plan for the future of food, and a large part of that involves planning for the future of water.

So, where are we now?

Agricultural Water Use In America

According to the USDA, 80 to 90 percent of America’s ground and surface water was devoted to agriculture.

In 2012, the United States had 55.8 million acres of irrigated land.

USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (FRIS) reports that in 2013, irrigated agriculture applied 88.5 million acre-feet of water nationally. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons.

325,851 x 88,500,000 = 28,837,814,000 gallons of water

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors water use by economic sector, irrigated agriculture accounted for 38% of the Nation’s freshwater withdrawals. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia increased their acreage of irrigated cropland the more than any other states.

Agricultural Water Use in India

India consumes more water than any other nation. Its explosive birthrates, combined with it’s high production of grain, has made it a key player in the fight against environmental degradation.

India’s population increased 235% in the last six decades.

Thanks to The Green Revolution, India has been able to dramatically increase it’s food yield — which is good, considering how many mouths they have to feed. However, the increase in food production has placed a heavy strain on the local water supply. The Indian diet is high in cereals, which require a lot of water to grow. Approximately half of India’s agricultural water use is dedicated to cereals, and approximately 90% of its water use is dedicated to agriculture.

Neither the Indian population nor the Indian demand for cereals give sign of slowing down any time soon.

Agricultural Water Use in China

75% of grain production in China comes from irrigated land.

China has managed to pull 700 million people out of poverty since 1990 — accounting for 2/3 of global hunger reduction in that time frame.

However, only 15% of China’s land is arable, and only 7% of its available water is fresh enough for human use.

Unlike India and the United States, China’s crop-based water usage has decreased as an overall percentage of the nation’s water use — although it has nearly doubled since 1997.

Most of the country’s increased water usage can be attributed to an increased demand for meat, as more people enter the middle class, and, therefore, can afford such things. However, animal-oriented agriculture is a topic for another time.

By 2014, China’s total water usage rang in at 609 billion gallons.

China’s distribution of arable land is very unequal. Northern China has 65% of the nation’s arable land, of which half is irrigated. That half of the northern region produces 80% of China’s food yield.

When you consider that 1 in 5 of all living people are Chinese, it is not hard to imaging the strain that this causes on the land.

How Hydroponics Can Help

At Ever Arable, we see the potential of hydroponic systems to reduce the water use in agriculture.

Areoponics uses as little as 10 percent of the water as traditional agriculture to produce the same amount of food.

Aquaponics, while, it uses more water, is a closed loop system that produces organic crops and healthy fish.

Any way that you cut it, hydroponics uses dramatically less water than traditional farming, and could offer a solution for our growing world.


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