Agriculture producers have until Feb. 10 to respond to a mandatory U.S. Department of Agriculture survey focused on how farmers and ranchers throughout the country use their water.
The survey – officially known as the Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey – comes at a time when many meteorologists and climate experts predict that temperatures and droughts will continue to increase in coming years, placing an even greater importance on water conservation and water usage.
“Water is arguably the most important resource for agriculture and horticulture industries,” said Chris Messer, the census planning branch chief of the National Agriculture Statics Service, in a news release. “The Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey will gauge farmers’ and ranchers’ stewardship of this precious resource and identify opportunities for new technology.”
Results from the most recently completed and analyzed survey – conducted in 2008 – estimate that about 207,000 U.S. farms were responsible for irrigating about 54.9 million acres of farmland, or an area slightly larger than that of Utah or Minnesota.
That amount was an increase of about 2.5 million acres of farmland from five years earlier.
And in the process of irrigating those 54.9 million acres in 2008, the survey found that producers spent about $2.1 billion on costs related to irrigation equipment, facilities, land improvements and technology. Farmers and ranchers spent about half of that total on replacing existing equipment.
Overall, slightly less than a third of all U.S. farmland depends on irrigation, according to the 2008 survey data.
Results from that survey also show that:
- Most farmers and ranchers use ground water as their irrigation source. Ground water irrigated 36.2 million acres in 2008, while on-farm water sources irrigated 8.8 million acres and off-farm water sources irrigated 13.1 million acres.
- From 2003 to 2008, the typical irrigation well’s depth increased about 5 feet to an average depth of about 243 feet, or slightly less than the length of a football field.
- More farmers tried to conserve water in 2008 than in 2003, as nearly 75,000 farms made changes to their equipment or management practices that significantly reduced or conserved water. Still, only about 10,000 farms used recycled water methods and less than 4 percent of all irrigated acres are irrigated with recycled water.
- Farmers and ranchers who use irrigation in their operation in Arkansas irrigated about 73 percent of their total farmland, the largest percentage of any individual state in the country. In contrast, farmers and ranchers who use irrigation in their operation in New Hampshire, Vermont, New Mexico and West Virginia all irrigated less than 10 percent of their total farmland.
- Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska irrigated the most acres of farmland in 2008 at 8.4 million acres, followed by farmers and ranchers in California at 7.3 million acres and Texas at 5.4 million acres. Farmers and Ranchers in West Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont all irrigated less than 1,000 acres of their farmland.
National Agricultural Statics Service workers administered the survey to U.S. agriculture producers who have previously indicated that they depend on irrigation. In 2008, that ground produced more than 217,000 records.
The survey’s expected national response rate is about 70 percent.
After receiving responses, agriculture officials plan to use insights gained from the survey to help develop improved irrigation technology, better irrigation equipment and more efficient water practices.
Similar to the national Census, people who receive a survey are required by law to respond.
The survey is part of the Census of Agriculture, which the Department of Agriculture conducts every five years.
Agriculture officials have been conducting irrigation surveys since 1890.