Commentary: Farmers can convert a water crisis into an opportunity
By Richard Worzel
Global water shortages may be inevitable, but they offer opportunities to farmers who can successfully manage water supplies, according to futurist Richard Worzel.
The looming shortage of fresh water is not unique to California—it's rapidly going global. This will be seen by many as a major problem, but California farmers have the opportunity to turn it into a significant advantage if they play it properly.
There are seven major factors contributing to coming water shortages, and they will have differing levels of effects on California farmers:
- Population growth will produce modest but steadily increasing pressure on supplies.
- Increases in the standard of living will be largely neutral.
- Agricultural intensification, especially using irrigation in dry areas, will moderately increase water shortages.
- Urbanization will be one of the major causes of shortages of water for agricultural producers as growing urban centers continue to push for increased water supplies.
- • Pollution will be pretty well neutral, which means it's not going to get much worse, even if it doesn't get much better.
- Depletion of aquifers, which can destroy an aquifer or at least reduce its long-term capacity, will be a major issue, particularly as much of the damage to aquifers comes as the levels get low.
- Climate change, which changes where and when water is available, will also be a major issue. Regardless of whether humanity is the cause of climate change or it's occurring naturally, the changes that do occur are more likely to be negative than positive.
For these and other reasons, the shortage of water is going to force itself on global consciousness. You've all probably heard water referred to as "the new oil," but I say that vastly underestimates the problem. There are substitutes for oil, but there is no substitute for water. You've all heard about carbon neutrality; now you're going to start hearing about water neutrality. For example, Coke and Pepsi were required by the Indian government to put 1 liter of water back for every liter they withdrew from community sources. So, water neutrality and steadily improving water management is something you should be thinking about—even if you're already ahead of everyone else on this issue—as water continues to grow scarcer.
Political conflicts are going to continue to grow between user groups, for example farmers versus cities; between states (Texas versus New Mexico, for example); and between national governments, especially the U.S. versus Canada and Mexico. Perhaps the two coming conflicts that will get most attention are the conflicts between cities and farmers, which are going to get worse, and the conflict between water-rich Canada and water-seeking America.
Yet, while California farmers think they know about water scarcity, I think we're just scratching the surface on this problem, and you would be well advised to look at ways of increasing your water productivity. As water scarcity becomes a worldwide issue, more attention will be focused on it, and the perceived value of water will continue to rise, causing more people, groups and political bodies to try to grab more control over it. This will also attract attention from financial players, like sovereign funds and pension funds, who will start buying sources to control and toll, which will further escalate the conflicts.
But there's an upside, too: If California farmers can improve their water management practices, they can benefit from the water problems of other parts of the world through increased demand for their exports. One of the big changes to come is that countries like India, which were self-sufficient or even net exporters of food, are becoming net importers simply because they don't have enough water to grow what they need. This will increase opportunities for farmers who are proactive in learning how to manage water supplies even more carefully than they do now.
I'm not suggesting this will be simple, but there are more water-efficient technologies out there that can help, and forward-looking farmers should be actively seeking out new techniques, new technologies, and new crops or biotech crops that allow them to grow more with less water.
In summary, water shortages are inevitable, they are going to become increasingly high-profile, and they offer real opportunities to those who can be proactive in managing supplies.
(Futurist Richard Worzel adapted this commentary from a portion of his presentation to the California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nev. He may be contacted at email@example.com or through his website, www.futuresearch.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.