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Increased Dependence on Irrigated Crop Production Across the CONUS (1945–2015)

Soil and Water Sciences Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2019, 11(7), 1458;
Received: 28 May 2019 / Revised: 28 June 2019 / Accepted: 11 July 2019 / Published: 14 July 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Precision Agriculture and Irrigation)
PDF [2762 KB, uploaded 14 July 2019]


Efficient irrigation technologies, which seem to promise reduced production costs and water consumption in heavily irrigated areas, may instead be driving increased irrigation use in areas that were not traditionally irrigated. As a result, the total dependence on supplemental irrigation for crop production and revenue is steadily increasing across the contiguous United States. Quantifying this dependence has been hampered by a lack of comprehensive irrigated and dryland yield and harvested area data outside of major irrigated regions, despite the importance and long history of irrigation applications in agriculture. This study used a linear regression model to disaggregate lumped agricultural statistics and estimate average irrigated and dryland yields at the state level for five major row crops: corn, cotton, hay, soybeans, and wheat. For 1945–2015, we quantified crop production, irrigation enhancement revenue, and irrigated and dryland areas in both intensively irrigated and marginally-dependent states, where both irrigated and dryland farming practices are implemented. In 2015, we found that irrigating just the five commodity crops enhanced revenue by ~$7 billion across all states with irrigation. In states with both irrigated and dryland practices, 23% of total produced area relied on irrigation, resulting in 7% more production than from dryland practices. There was a clear response to increasing biofuel demand, with the addition of more than 3.6 million ha of irrigated corn and soybeans in the last decade in marginally-dependent states. Since 1945, we estimate that yield enhancement due to irrigation has resulted in over $465 billion in increased revenue across the contiguous United States (CONUS). Example applications of this dataset include estimating historical water use, evaluating the effects of environmental policies, developing new resource management strategies, economic risk analyses, and developing tools for farmer decision making. View Full-Text
Keywords: irrigation; food production; efficiency; water use; agriculture; enhancement irrigation; food production; efficiency; water use; agriculture; enhancement

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Smidt, S.J.; Kendall, A.D.; Hyndman, D.W. Increased Dependence on Irrigated Crop Production Across the CONUS (1945–2015). Water 2019, 11, 1458.

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