Global Irrigated Area At Record Levels, But Expansion Slowing

In 2009, the most recent year for which global data are available from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 311 million hectares in the world was equipped for irrigation but only 84% of that area was actually being irrigated, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service. As of 2010, the countries with the largest irrigated areas were India (39 million hectares), China (19 million), and the U.S. (17 million), writes report author Judith Renner.

The irrigation sector claims about 70% of the freshwater withdrawals worldwide. Irrigation can offer crop yields that are two to four times greater than is possible with rainfed farming, and it currently provides 40% of the world’s food from approximately 20% of all agricultural land.

Since the late 1970s, irrigation expansion has experienced a marked slowdown. The FAO attributes the decline in investment to the unsatisfactory performances of formal large canal systems, corruption in the construction process, and acknowledgement of the environmental impact of irrigation projects.

The increasing availability of inexpensive individual pumps and well construction methods has led to a shift from public to private investment in irrigation, and from larger to smaller-scale systems. The takeoff in individual groundwater irrigation has been concentrated in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia. The idea of affordable and effective irrigation is attractive to poor farmers worldwide, with rewards of higher outputs and incomes and better diets.

“The option is often made even more appealing with offers of government subsidies for energy costs of running groundwater pumps and support prices of irrigated products,” said Renner, a senior at Fordham University in New York. “In India’s Gujarat state, for example, energy subsidies are structured so that farmers pay a flat rate, no matter how much electricity they use. But with rising numbers of farmers tapping groundwater resources, more and more aquifers are in danger of overuse.”

If groundwater resources are overexploited, aquifers will be unable to recharge fast enough to keep pace with water withdrawals. It should be noted that not all aquifers are being pumped at unsustainable levels – in fact, 80% of aquifers worldwide could handle additional water withdrawals. One troubling aspect of groundwater withdrawals is that the world’s major agricultural producers (particularly India, China, and the U.S.) are also the ones responsible for the highest levels of depletion.

Another problem with pumping water from aquifers and redirecting flows for irrigation is the impact on delicate environmental balances. Salinization occurs when water moves past plant roots to the water table due to inefficient irrigation and drainage systems; as the water table rises, it brings salts to the base of plant roots.Plants take in the water, and the salts are left behind, degrading soil quality and therefore the potential for growth.

A potentially better alternative is drip irrigation, a form of micro-irrigation that waters plants slowly and in small amounts either on the soil surface or directly on roots. Using these techniques has the potential to reduce water use by as much as 70% while increasing output by 20-90%. Within the last two decades, the area irrigated using drip and other micro-irrigation methods has increased 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to over 10.3 million hectares.

With predictions of a global population exceeding 9 billion by 2050, demand for higher agricultural output will put more strain on already fragile water reserves. Even without the effects of climate change, water withdrawals for irrigation will need to rise by 11% in the next three decades to meet crop production demands. Reconciling increasing food demands with decreasing water security requires efficient systems that produce more food with less water and that minimize water waste. Intelligent water management is crucial especially in the face of climate change, which will force the agriculture industry to compete with the environment for water.

Further highlights from the report:

  • The share of the area equipped for irrigation that is actually under irrigation ranges from 77 to 87% in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and in Oceania, but is only 59% in Europe. More reliable rainfall allows farmers in northern and eastern Europe to rely less on existing irrigation infrastructure than is the case in drier or more variable climates.
  • Worldwide, the most commonly used irrigation technique is flood irrigation, even though plants often use only about half the amount of water applied in that system.
  • India claims the lead in irrigated area worldwide, irrigating almost 2 million hectares of its land using drip and micro-irrigation techniques.

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementNew Rabobank Report Calls for Farmer ROI Focus
July 25, 2016
As U.S. row crop farmers brace themselves for a third year of negative margins, Rabobank believes farmers must lower the Read More
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and RNC Invite
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Other Changes
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurface Field Drainage Systems
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Trending Articles
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Latest News
Illinois Researchers
FertilizerMeasure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Ag…
July 26, 2016
What’s good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems Read More
Kochia
Crop InputsNufarm Launches New Herbicide for Resistant Kochia
July 25, 2016
Nufarm introduces Scorch herbicide for U.S. farmers and ranchers combating a broad range of troublesome broadleaf weeds. A unique premix Read More
ManagementNew Rabobank Report Calls for Farmer ROI Focus
July 25, 2016
As U.S. row crop farmers brace themselves for a third year of negative margins, Rabobank believes farmers must lower the Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsBloomberg: Syngenta-Chem China Deal on Track for Regula…
July 25, 2016
Syngenta AG, which has agreed to be taken over by China National Chemical Corp. for $43 billion, said talks with Read More
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and R…
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDuPont, Dow Shareholders Approve Merger
July 21, 2016
DuPont and The Dow Chemical Company announced that, at their respective special meetings of stockholders held today, stockholders of both Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Oth…
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Shareholder Proposes Monsanto ‘Host…
July 20, 2016
One of Bayer AG’s top 20 shareholders said Wednesday it may make sense for the life-science company to launch an Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Industry NewsNew Leaf Symbiotics Snags Former Monsanto Microbials Le…
July 20, 2016
NewLeaf Symbiotics, announced today the appointment of Dr. Janne Kerovuo as Vice President for Research and Discovery.  Dr. Kerovuo comes Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurfac…
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentAgronomists, CCAs, Custom Applicators Invited To FSR Ag…
July 19, 2016
Agronomists, Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) and custom applicators can stay current on agronomy issues on the grounds of the Farm Read More
Soybean Field
LegislationOhio Soybean Association Names Brian Hill Legislator Of…
July 19, 2016
The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) has announced that State Representative Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) has been named one of two Legislators of Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Latest Monsanto Rumors: A Game Of Tones
July 18, 2016
When companies are engaged in the back-and-forth of the acquisition game, the tone of their various announcements is always important. Read More
Nozzle spray close-up
AdjuvantsWest Central Distribution Introduces New Elite Family O…
July 14, 2016
West Central Distribution recently released a new line of Elite adjuvants to work alongside the new herbicide technologies that combat Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsBayer Makes New Offer For Monsanto
July 14, 2016
Bayer AG boosted its takeover offer for Monsanto Co. to about $65 billion in a bid to overcome the U.S. Read More
ManagementAn Update on Water
July 14, 2016
CropLife Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Matthew Grassi discuss agricultural water issues in conjunction with a recent field trip in Ohio. Read More