Agriculture and Water Committee Recap:
The CSG West Energy & Environment Committee, chaired by Senator Wendy McKamey (MT) and Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (CA), invited national and state experts Glenda Humiston, PhD., and Tony Willardson to discuss the sustainability of agriculture and water resources in the West with committee members.
Agriculture’s difficult landscape across the West
Decades of drought have brought dramatic changes to agriculture and water management in the West. Agriculture consolidation and foreign investment in agricultural assets and water rights further complicate an already challenging landscape for policymakers across the West. For example:
- Limited data exists on water supplies and demands
- Water rights can compete or be poorly defined
- Infrastructure is aging or inadequate
- Regulatory environments are ever-changing
- Climate and extreme weather events are unpredictable climate
Troubling trends for our Western farmers
Despite ongoing innovation and adaption, some troubling trends have emerged, including
- Fallowing of agricultural land.
- Since 1981, the U.S. has lost 437,300 farms and 141.1 million acres of farm and ranch land.
- Small farms are disappearing, with farm income concentrated in larger farms. In 2019, only 50,000 farms reported revenue of over $500,000, which accounted for 89% of all farm income. Some two million farms shared the remaining 11%. Notably, 50% of farms didn’t make any money at all.
- For small farmers, 40% of their income came from off-farm sources.
- An inventory of biomass and biofuel in need of a market has accumulated.
- Invasive species and pests have increased in new habitats.
- Climate change has caused many species to relocate to new areas in search of temperatures and forage conditions conducive to their survival and reproduction.
Challenges bring together new and more effective partnerships and resources
While a dryer, warmer climate out West with reduced snowpack and precipitation has brought challenges, they have also created partnerships and cooperation – among federal, state, and local governments across the scientific and technology sectors, the academic and applied research communities, producers, and industry.
Water managers and users are engaged in conservation efforts, innovative water technology, and water transfers to meet the dynamic water needs out West.
Western partnerships and initiatives include
- ARCHES, a hydrogen hub funded at $1.2 billion, may hold promise for biomass hydrogen fuel production
- USDA is diversifying small farm opportunities to include monetizing ecosystem services markets, including water and carbon sequestration, promoting regional and local food business centers, supporting localized processing plants, and using federal food buying programs.