A white paper published this past summer titled "The Economic Importance of Western Irrigated Agriculture: Impacts, Water Values and Strategic Policy Questions" offers a pulse on farm water usage across 17 states in the western U.S. In 2011, the report finds, roughly $117 billion of the $171 billion (about 68%) in total production value for states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Arizona could be traced back to irrigated agriculture. About 42 million acres of production agriculture in those states are under irrigation, including pasture and harvested crops. Total household income impacts are estimated to be roughly $156 billion yearly. Water market values range from $1,500 per acre-foot to $3,000 per acre-foot for irrigation. Pacific Northwest Project of Kennewick, Wash., prepared the report for The Family Farm Alliance and the Irrigation Association. The report is intended to help policymakers understand the economics behind regional water use and address related policy questions. Among the highlights of the report is a look into the future, viewed through the lens of increased international food trade and rising food prices. "There is a marked trend in both increasing food imports to and exports from the U.S.—the food trade business is growing," the writers note. "Expect more demand for U.S. agricultural products well beyond beans and grains." Moreover, while food prices are expected to rise by a modest 2% to 2.5% beginning this year and continuing annually, USDA has suggested that "even under a high food-cost scenario, retail food prices would not likely exceed 15%. But the introduction of worldwide, accelerated food demand and the prevalence of creeping reductions to irrigation water supply (as well as drought impacts) may change the picture."
- November 2013