$2.5M grant to help improve agricultural consumption of water, energy

  • Jan 18, 2018
  • sustainability, energy, water, research, agriculture
  • Homepage News, Faculty & Staff, Research, College of Natural Science, EES

Image of a soybean field

MSU hydrogeologist David Hyndman and his team are dedicated to finding ways to feed the world's growing population. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz.

Around the world, irrigated agriculture is the largest consumer of water and one of the largest users of energy.

Michigan State University scientists are leading a $2.5 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to better manage these resources and define more sustainable ways for irrigated agriculture to meet current and future demand for food.

“Irrigated agriculture is at the core of the nexus of food, energy and water, or FEW, systems,” said David Hyndman, MSU hydrogeologist and the grant’s lead investigator. “Global change is expected to place additional pressure on these systems as U.S. climate warms and becomes more variable, and demand for food increases due to global population growth and diet shifts.”

The interdisciplinary team will focus its efforts on two major irrigated regions in the U.S. and an area that has seen a rapid increase of irrigation – the High Plains, California’s Central Valley and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, respectively.

Image of the Ogallala Aquifer

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU.

They will quantify the effects of projected increases in food production on energy consumption and water resources under a changing climate. They’ll also simulate the effects of potential water policies and their associated influence on the energy and water footprints of U.S. agriculture.

In addition, they’ll quantify the likely effects of large-scale shifts in irrigated agriculture over the next century on regional climate.

The project team includes scientists, farmers and policymakers – a network that will enable the research to have a significant impact on decisions and policies that can increase water, energy and nutrient use efficiency, while maintaining crop yields and farmer profitability.

“Water use in most of these intensively irrigated regions is not sustainable,” said Hyndman, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the MSU College of Natural Science. “Research is needed to help define science-based policies that can improve the long-term sustainability of irrigated agriculture across the country and its critical role in feeding a growing population under projected changes in climate.”

MSU scientists contributing to this study include: Annick Anctil, Bruno Basso, Anthony Kendall, Paolo Sabbatini, Jinhua Zhao and Adam Zwickle. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Kansas Geological Survey, NOAA-Great Lake Environmental Research Laboratory and Dartmouth University are also contributing.

 

Banner image: As part of their study, the research team will simulate the effects of potential water policies and their associated influence on the energy and water footprints of U.S. agriculture. Photo courtesy of MSU.