New USDA soil shows an increase in the number of irrigated acres in the Eastern US. A record-high 58 million acres were irrigated in 2017, representing a 4 percent increase from 2012. Irrigated acreage increased in all Midwestern and most of the southern states, but perhaps most surprising, was that a full 29 percent of irrigated states were in the humid eastern portion of the country. By contrast, sixty years ago, less than 7 percent of irrigated acreage was in eastern states.
The shift has happened in large part because of economic pressures, according to the articles’s author, Brett Walton. “Farmers — and their bankers…view the capacity to supplement increasingly erratic rainfall with water pumped from underground or from canals as an essential feature of the 21st-century business model,” according to the article.
The shift has also happened because of changes in urban development, growing seasons, precipitation, and temperature, the competition for water, and everybody’s favorite new villain, climate change.
Because no place is immune to drought, those farmers who rely on rainfall may find new challenges as where, when and how precipitation falls changes. Irrigation gives them a new means of productivity. Let’s hope Eastern water managers are better and controlling the flows of irrigation water than their Western counterparts.