Farmers aren’t the problem

Aaron Citron, with the Environmental Defense Fund, argues that identifying farmers as our water problem – They use 80 percent of our water! – is wrong:

[F]armers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, water conservationists and land stewards. They have been, and continue to be, among the first to develop innovative water efficiency solutions, and they are already implementing a variety of practices to optimize their water use and adapt to drought and climate change.

On World Water Day, it’s important to remember that farmers are our best hope for solving the global water crisis.

Faced with water shortfalls, Citron argues, farmers are in the best position to drive the innovation we need:

When drought hit Brendon Rockey’s Colorado farm hard seven years ago, he planted cover crops to retain moisture in the soil, which also enhanced the effectiveness of his center pivot irrigation. Since then, Rockey’s pumping costs have decreased – his cumulative annual consumptive use cut nearly in half – while his crop quality increased. His neighbors now come to him for advice on maintaining a productive business through drought.

This is what economists would predict, and what they have identified as happening. It’s one of the things the “crisis” rhetoric about “running out of water” often misses.


  1. Yeah, but…..this concept can’t be generically applied because it is simply not true. Ag users in the west have been propped up for years by the Feds. Subsidies, infrastructure gimmes, you name it. MRGCD in our own backyard is a perfect example. Their methods are outdated, wasteful, and support irrigation for so many unimportant uses (yards for example). And the current ecological purgatory in our valley is testament. Not all ag use is good and can be very destructive and unsustainable. No “one size fits all” here.

  2. It is important to distinguish ‘farmers’ from large agribusinesses. There is probably also on 80-20 rule (80% of the use is by 20% of the users) in terms of agriculture. There is a subset of large users that have captured large flows of highly subsidized water. They will change little without some outside pressure.

  3. While agreeing with the two comments above, I’ll (a) agree with J Michaels and (b) remind everyone that farmers stand to make $billions in a water market (even with each other, as they have in Australia).

  4. Aaron Citron is correct, and useful, in his observations. Generated predictable responses. Evidence of the fundamental error of ingrained opinion.

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