Agriculture accounts for roughly 80 percent of water consumption in Arizona and an even higher percentage in New Mexico. This means that small changes in irrigation water use has large implications for water available for other uses (domestic, commercial, industrial, and environmental). State and local agencies require information on factors that affect agricultural water use in order to adjust to climate change and drought.
CLIMAS researchers conducted statistical analysis of the 1998 and 2003 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Surveys (FRIS) of the USDA Census of Agriculture. The FRIS reports cross-tabulated data on water use, production decisions, and irrigation practice and technology. In Arizona and New Mexico, over 700 farms and ranches accounting for 54 percent of irrigated acreage were surveyed directly. The sampling design allowed responses to be expanded to state-level estimates. Using categorical data analysis techniques, we examined how the use of publicly and privately supplied information for water management, barriers to adopting more efficient irrigation practices, and participation in government water conservation programs varied by farm size and by state.
Use of water management information: Irrigators relied most on neighbors and extension agents or university specialists and less on equipment dealers and private consultants. This lends support for the traditional extension model of working with influential farmers to transfer information.
Methods to determine when to irrigate: Few farms use management intensive methods such as soil moisture devices, computer models, or commercial services. Many farms irrigate based on the calendar or receive water “in-turn” from irrigation districts. This suggests that there remains significant scope for water conservation using scientific irrigation scheduling (ISI). Technology transfer will likely be more successful if irrigation district staff as well as growers are target audiences.
Barriers to adopting irrigation technologies and practices to conserve water or energy: Over 40 percent of Arizona farms and 20 percent of New Mexico farms had not investigated improved technologies in the 4 years prior to the survey. Those not seeking improvements, however, accounted for a small share of water use. The main barriers to making system improvements appear to be financial constraints.
Conservation program participation: USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) provides irrigators with cost-share payments to defray the cost of irrigation and drainage improvements. Participation rates are higher among larger farms, who account for the bulk of irrigation water use. However, because small farms are such a large share of all farms in New Mexico, small farms there accounted for over 70 percent of all EQIP contracts to irrigators. States have certain latitude in administration of program funding. In New Mexico, 74 percent of EQIP contracts are with smaller farms that account for 26 percent of total state irrigation water applied. In Arizona, 65 percent of contracts are with larger farms that account for 77 percent of the water applied.
Differences by farm size: Statistical analysis reveals that there are many significant differences in water use and management behavior across farm size.
Deva, S. and G. Frisvold. 2005. Some Highlights from the 2003 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey. Arizona Review. Spring. pp. 16-19.
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Frisvold, G. 2004. How Federal Farm Programs Affect Water Use, Quality, and Allocation among Sectors. Water Resources Research, 40, W12S05, doi:10.1029/2003WR002753.
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