IA Times, December 2019

USDA releases 2018 Irrigation & Water Management Survey

As a follow-up to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the 2018 Irrigation and Water Management Survey, formerly the Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey.

Conducted every five years, the survey provides the only comprehensive information on irrigation activities and water use across American farms, ranches and horticultural operations. In responding to the survey, producers provide information on topics such as water sources and amount of water used, acres irrigated by type of system, irrigation and yield by crop, and system investments and energy costs.

Survey results are used by producers, farm organizations, businesses, state departments of agriculture, elected representatives and legislative bodies at all levels of government, public and private sector analysts, the news media, and colleges and universities to primarily

  • compare water use by application method.
  • develop improved technologies.
  • develop federal programs.
  • appraise water-use trends.
  • assess impact of congressional legislation.
  • evaluate the impact of irrigated crops by state.

While the survey data goes well into depth on a variety of issues affecting irrigated agriculture, the Irrigation Association has completed a preliminary review of the data. Below are some highlights of the survey results:

  • In 2018, there were 55.9 million acres of irrigated land in the United States, which represents 25% of all agricultural land. This is an increase of 600,000 acres of irrigated land from the 2013 survey results.
  • The top irrigated states, by acres irrigated, are the following:
    • California – 8.4 million 
    • Nebraska – 7.6 million
    • Arkansas – 4.2 million
    • Texas – 4 million
    • Idaho – 3.3 million
  • These five states account for approximately one-half of all irrigated acres in the United States.
  • Groundwater continues to be a major source of water for irrigation. It accounts for more than 35 million acres of irrigated agriculture.
  • More than 80,000 farms reported investments in irrigation equipment, facilities, computer technology and/or land improvement. This investment was worth more than $2 billion, with more than $630 million dedicated to the expansion of irrigated acres.
  • The survey also reported the methods used by farmers in deciding when to irrigate. Not surprisingly, scheduling and/or technology use are not in the top three methods reported:
  1. condition of crop
  2. feel of soil
  3. personal calendar
  4. scheduled by water supplier
  5. soil moisture sensing device
  6. commercial or government scheduling service
  7. reports on daily ET
  8. when neighbors decide to irrigate

The IA will continue to analyze the data reported in the survey. The full survey can be found on the USDA website.

For more information regarding the survey results, please contact IA Government and Public Affairs Director John Farner (703.536.7080).