In a world plagued by shortages of water, three facts stand out in an analysis by Cornell University ecologists: Less than 1 percent of water on the planet is fresh water; agriculture in the United States consumes 80 percent of the available fresh water each year; and 60 percent of U.S. water intended for crop irrigation never reaches the crops.
Their report in the October 2004 journal BioScience (Vol. 54, No. 10, "Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues") names farmers as "the prime target for incentives to conserve water." The report is particularly critical of irrigation practices in the United States, where subsidized "cheap water" offers scant incentive for conservation.
"Part of the problem is the decision by farmers on what to grow where," says David Pimentel, a Cornell professor who led nine student ecologists through an exhaustive analysis of research conducted at other institutions and government agencies. "We learned, for example, that to produce wheat using irrigation requires three times more fossil energy than producing the same quantity of rain-fed wheat. The next time you make a sandwich, think about this: One pound of bread requires 250 gallons of water to produce the grains that go into the bread."
Other authors of theBioScience< report were students in Pimentel’s graduate-level class, Environmental Policy: Bonnie Berger, David Filiberto, Michelle Newton, Benjamin Wolfe, Elizabeth Karabinakis, Steven Clark, Elaine Poon, Elizabeth Abbett and Sudha Nandagopal.
Roger Segelken | EurekAlert!
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