When it comes to irrigation, most observers would say California leads the nation in the number of acres watered artificially. Some would guess Nebraska, which pioneered the use of center pivots, would be second.
But how many would say Arkansas, which has a relatively limited number of crop acres compared to other states, would come in third in the number of acres irrigated with supplemental water?
“Arkansas ranks third in the nation in the terms of the number of acres irrigated (4.25 million); California was first at 8.4 million acres; and Nebraska was second at 7.6 million,” said Eugene Young, director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Delta Region.
Young was discussing the findings from NASS’ 2018 Irrigation and Water Management Survey during a presentation at the Arkansas Soil and Water Education Conference at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ark. He stressed that the data was for one year only.
“One thing I want to preface before we get too far is that this data was collected for the 2018 crop year,” he said. “And, certainly, here in this part of the state we know what 2018 was like. We had a lot of acres that did not get planted, or, if they were planted, got washed away. We had ample rainfall in a lot of areas.”
Nationally, farmers irrigated about 55.9 million acres with some type of watering system. Those growers applied a total of 83.38 million acre-feet of water to their crops, pastures or fish ponds.
“In Arkansas, 91 percent of our irrigated acres came from groundwater,” said Young, who is based in Little Rock and oversees NASS operations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. “The remaining was from on-farm surface water.” (Arkansas farmers applied a total of 5 million acre-feet of water.)
“At the U.S. level 65 percent of the irrigated acres came from groundwater, 28.5 percent were from off-farm water sources and the remainder would be from on-farm surface water.”
1.65 trillion gallons
For those who might wonder how much water would be in Arkansas’ 5 million acre-feet, “that number comes out to 1.65 trillion gallons,” he said.
2008 was the peak year for Arkansas’ irrigated producers with 8.63 million acre-feet of water applied. “If we look at 2018 with that 5 million acre-feet applied, we’re down about 41 percent from 2008,” he noted.
Arkansas has been trending up in the number of acres irrigated since 1974, according to a table Young presented. The exception was 2018, “mainly because of the weather conditions we had in 2018 with ample rain plus losing a lot of acres to flooding.”
All told, the top five irrigated states — California, Nebraska, Arkansas, Texas and Idaho — accounted for 50 percent of the irrigated acres in the U.S. and 56 percent of the amount of water applied.
California growers applied 24.5 million acre-feet of water or 29 percent of the total water used with 15 percent of the acres. Arkansas accounted for 6 percent of the U.S. total water used and about 7.5 per of U.S. irrigated acres.
In the Mid-South, Arkansas has 2,810 farmers who irrigate with about 41,000 wells with an average well depth of 119 feet, according to the survey. Louisiana has 1,549 farms with about 10,000 wells pumping from an average depth of 121 feet. Mississippi has 1,354 farms that irrigate with 14,624 wells from an average depth of 112 feet.
For more information on the survey go to www.nass.usda.gov and click on the Census tab. Select Irrigation and Water Management Survey from the drop-down menu on the left side of the screen.