This Simple Tech Fix Could Help Us Grow the Food We Need With Half the Water

A new technology can cut agriculture’s water consumption, but can farmers be convinced to use it?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jun 18, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Watering your lawn to green perfection isn’t exactly eco-friendly, and neither is drinking a latte; it can take 800 cups of water to make one. But when it comes to accounting for the rest of the 2,000 gallons of H2O each of us uses every day, nothing compares to the biggest water sucker of all: our food.

Americans consume twice as much water per day compared to the global average, and agriculture alone constitutes 80 percent of our use. A video by Scientific American lays out how, thanks to global warming, this water consumption problem could get worse: Not only do higher temperatures deplete water sources, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also slows down crop growth.

The good news is that we’re becoming more efficient with our water use. In 2005, the U.S. had 68 million more people than in 1980, but consumption remained flat. Newer, more efficient agricultural methods have reduced water wastage. Less H2O is evaporating before it reaches the plant, running off in the field, or seeping into the soil beyond the reach of crops’ roots.

As the planet becomes even warmer, conservation methods need to be ramped up even more. The latest in eco-friendly ag technology? Soil moisture sensors, which let farmers know how much water a crop needs and when. Less than 10 percent of farmers employ the technology, but those who do use less water and energy and report a better crop yield. The cost, however, discourages the rest of growers from using this method.

“Water is basically free, so why would we pay extra for this irrigation system that happens to use water more efficiently?” asks Columbia Water Center’s Tess Russo in the video. “We need to move in that direction of better pricing our water so that people actually value it for what it’s worth, and then improving the technologies to something people can afford to install, afford to maintain. We’re moving in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.”