U.S. Water News Online
LUBBOCK, Texas -- A Texas A&M study made to assess whether U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) programs promote water use, suggests that the impact of USDA commodity programs has been to encourage farmers to plant crops that use less water. The study was made as part of the critical debate in the ongoing water controversy in the Edwards Aquifer concerning whether or not federal irrigation policies lead to excessive water use.
The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit requesting that many U.S. Department of Agriculture programs be modified or withdrawn so that farm water use would be lessened. In response, researchers at Texas A&M; University (TAMU) used simulation models and data sets to assess the impact of USDA commodity programs on agricultural water use in the region.
The study was made by Ron Lacewell, Bruce McCarl, and Manzoor Chowdhury of the TAMU Agricultural Economics Department. The researchers obtained information about participation in USDA commodity programs in the region from a 1995 survey by the National Agricultural Statistical Service.
That survey revealed that roughly 42 percent of the irrigated cropland in the region participated in USDA commodity programs (most of the acreage was in cotton, corn, and sorghum). Regional weather data from 1989 was collected to represent a dry year, 1992 for a wet year, and 1994 for a normal year.
Cotton irrigation strategies and yields were simulated with the integrated crop and economic management model. Irrigation strategies and yields for corn, grain sorghum, and wheat were modeled with the erosion productivity impact calculator. A discrete, stochastic, economic optimization model was used to simulate economic decisions farmers would make about irrigating crops or using dryland farming methods.
Results of this study suggest that the impact of USDA commodity programs has been to encourage farmers to plant crops that use less water. Lacewell suggests that many farmers would likely switch to vegetables, hay, and other crops that use more water if the USDA commodity programs were not in place.
The analysis also suggests that farmers in the region would probably pump more water for irrigation (regardless of weather conditions) if USDA commodity programs were not in effect. Part of the reason may be that farmers in the region have adopted a particular cropping pattern and irrigation strategy over time which is the major factor that influences their irrigation management decisions.
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