TAMPA, Fla. – Our nation needs agriculture and agriculture needs water. Those points came through clearly as Paul Genho, PhD, discussed water issues in a Cattlemen’s College presentation at the 2013 Cattle Industry Convention this week in Tampa. Genho, who currently is president of Farmland Reserves Inc., is well known across the industry as a former manager of the King Ranch in Texas and the Deseret Ranch in Florida. His presentation summarized a white paper titled “Agricultural Water: Protecting the future of our nation,” recently published by the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management.

Agriculture, Genho says, shaped and sustained our past, provides abundant food, fuel and fiber today and will determine our future. And, he stresses, agricultural productivity in the United States plays a key role in economic and social stability across the globe. “What happens in a cornfield in Iowa influences food supplies in Pakistan,” he says. When U.S. agricultural production drops, high food prices create unrest and instability overseas, such as during last year’s “Arab Spring.” Instability in the Middle East leads to higher energy prices, which result in higher production costs for U.S. farmers and reductions in food production – a vicious cycle.

The white paper resulted from a stakeholder meeting held in May 2012, where participants focused on three areas: water supply, water resource stewardship and long-term water policy.

Water supplies are becoming increasingly short in the United States as population growth shifts to areas of lowest precipitation and weather patterns become dryer. The water crisis is equal to the energy crisis, but most people, including policy makers, do not recognize its importance. Food remains cheap while gas prices rise, Genho says, keeping looming water shortages off the radar.

Meanwhile, a list of factors will influence future water supplies for agriculture.

  • Many critical water facilities are more than 50 years old with no redundancy or reserve capacity.
  • Federal policy does not provide funds to maintain or replace federal facilities and local economies don’t have the funds.
  • Water infrastructure has not kept pace with population.
  • Weather patterns, population distribution and technology changes are bringing obsolescence.
  • Current policy discourages private investment.

To address the issue, Genho stresses that farmers, ranchers and others directly involved in water and land management must take a leadership role, even though they comprise a small minority of the overall population. The agricultural community must demand science-based policy development, create opportunities for private investment, increase certainty of water rights and permits and replace federal regulatory reach with basin-specific policies.

Finally, the authors of the white paper note that cooperation with other stakeholders in water supplies including municipalities and industry, will contribute to long-term solutions.

Genho says the white paper provides a blueprint for constructive action. Read it at the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management website.