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Which Crops Are the Thirstiest?

June 3, 2013
By: Ben Potter, Social Media and Innovation Editor google + 

University of Minnesota study looks at water usage for 16 major row crops.

Ever wonder how much crop you’re getting per drop? A group of research scientists were, and they just published a study on their findings. Scientists with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), along with the Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation at the University of Bonn (Germany) conducted the study.

IonE postdoctoral research scholar Kate Brauman led the research team, which looked at crop production, water use and crop-water productivity across multiple climate zones for 16 different crops, including corn, soybean, wheat, potato and more. They found a wide range of variation in crop-water productivity in places that have similar climates, which could translate into water savings opportunities.

"For example, disease presence or nutrient availability can cause big yield changes even though water consumption is the same," Brauman says.

The implications for capitalizing on these "crop per drop" variances are substantial, Brauman adds. The researchers calculated that in drier regions, farmers could raise enough food to provide for an additional 110 million people without increasing water use or using additional cropland – simply by improving the very lowest performers to just the 20th percentile.

"Because crop production consumes more freshwater than any other human activity on the planet, the study has significant implications for addressing the twin challenges of water stress and food insecurity," Brauman says.

As part of the study, researchers calculated total water consumption, rainfed consumption and irrigation consumption across the 16 crops. Here are the top 5 irrigated U.S. crops, for example:

1. Corn
2. Soybean
3. Rice
4. Wheat
5. Sorghum

For more information about the IonE, visit

More on AgWeb:

Check your crop moisture levels.

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RELATED TOPICS: Crops, Research, Water

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