Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Water and Food

This morning, shortly after she left for work, Jennifer called and asked me to turn the sprinkler on and water some flowers she had just planted. No problem, I watered them while I did chores. Little did I know that the new hose had a tendency to kink. Each time I worked one out, a new one would form, causing me to say really unkind things about the hose. In the end I got all of the kinks worked out and the water started pulsing through the sprinkler.
Watering our plants, washing our cars, power washing our decks, we seem to use water at the drop of a hat and without thinking about it. Water is the most important natural resource we have, without it we cannot live, yet it is the one we probably take most for granted. I simply lift of the hydrant handle (along with five minutes of unkinking the hose) and the plants are watered.
It wasn’t just watering our landscape that got me to thinking about water. The night before I had served as a panelist at the Shawnee County Farm Bureau Ladies Night, the main program was a question and answer session where the attendees could ask us anything about agriculture. We had several great discussions about a variety of different topics but one in particular stuck in my mind.
One of the ladies asked about a news story she had heard about almonds in California. I had heard the same story about how much water it took to produce one almond. I don’t remember how much water it was now but it seemed like a lot for one little nut. The story was about the drought in California and whether it was a good use of the water to grow almonds. I must admit on the surface I found myself questioning if almonds should be grown. I like almonds but were they really worth it?
I must admit that I am skeptical of anything I hear from the national media and this story was no different. I am not sure if we got the whole story, I don’t remember if an almond grower was interviewed. A couple of years ago I did take a trip to California and toured their agriculture and I remember that almond farmers were having a tough time because of the cost of irrigation and they had started moving away from almond production. Often market demand or lack of profit takes care of such problems.
In the end, I had to admit that I did not have enough expertise to answer the question. What I do know is that water usage will continue to be a growing topic of discussion as we populations grow and the demand for water continues to grow along with it. Water supply was once viewed as an unlimited resource but we now know that it is a finite one.
We humans are a funny bunch. We chose to live in places where there is little rainfall and pipe water in. We also have found that some of these places have the perfect climate to grow food. The soil is very fertile and if you can control when the water is applied, we can make ideal growing conditions almost year round. However, in either case we have to either pump water out of the ground or divert it from other places with more rainfall.
This works fine until the places with abundant rainfall have a drought or the underground water we rely on starts to run out, then we have a problem. The answers to these problems are difficult. We all require water, without it survival is not possible. That is a known, undisputable fact. We also know that we need food and the use of water to produce food also seems like a pretty logical and beneficial use. But more and more it seems as though agriculture and our water use have become a target for reduced usage.
One thing I do know is that we are really good at solving problems in agriculture. We have already figured out how to grow more food with less water. I am just as sure that we will continue those advances and that farming will see some remarkable changes because of our dilemma on how to best utilize our most important resource.
This discussion will continue and the choices will continue to get tougher. It is a problem we must face head on. I have no idea what the right answer is or even if there is a right answer. What I do know is that we must start to have these discussions. Watering our plants may not always be as easy as a lift of the hydrant handle or even unkinking a hose.

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