When the rain is mainly not on the Plains: Farming, water and sprawl

April 17, 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---A new study suggests that agriculture can successfully coexist with continuing population growth and urban sprawl in some areas of the Great Plains.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, found that despite explosive population growth over the last 50 years in Denver, Boulder and other eastern Colorado Plains cities, total harvested area in the region increased by 5 percent and the amount of irrigated land that is harvested jumped by 73 percent.

"These findings underscore the importance of irrigation in sustaining Great Plains agriculture," said U-M historian Myron P. Gutmann, who directs The Great Plains Population and Environment Project, a multi-disciplinary, federally-funded study of the long-term relationships between human population and environment in 12 Great Plains states. Gutmann co-authored the study, which will be published this spring in the journal Great Plains Research, with Colorado State University researcher William J. Parton and William R. Travis from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The study analyzed employment and agricultural census data for 27 Colorado Plains counties to explore changes in land use and agricultural productivity and employment over the last half century, reaching some surprising conclusions about how those changes are linked to population size, the growth of cities and the use of irrigation.

After large declines in agricultural employment from 1950 to 1970, the study found, farm and ranch employment in the region has generally remained stable, with the smallest declines occurring in urban fringe regions. This finding suggests that urbanization might not be as bad for farming as many people think, said Parton and Gutmann, who also directs the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world's largest computerized social science archive and an affiliate of the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

"The persistence of agriculture despite larger urban populations, smaller rural populations and declining farmland and total cropland is surprising," said Parton, the lead author of the study and senior research scientist at CSU's Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. "The key to this persistence has been the growth of irrigation plus the economically sustaining role played by nearby urban areas and their associated transportation links."

Rather than threatening agriculture, urban development and sprawl in the region seem to have stabilized farm and ranch production by increasing demand for hay and stimulating job growth in the agricultural service sector, Parton and Gutmann note.

"In the face of drought and growing water demands in both urban and agricultural areas, the role of irrigation in sustaining Great Plains agriculture will become more uncertain," the authors wrote.
-end-
The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Related Links:
ICPSR Great Plains Project: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/PLAINS/
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu
University of Michigan Institute for Social Research: http://www.isr.umich.edu
Colorado State University News: http://newsinfo.colostate.edu/
University of Colorado at Boulder: http://www.colorado.edu/

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive.

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
Phone: (734) 647-9069
E-mail: Swanbrow@umich.edu
Web: www.umich.edu/news
www.isr.umich.edu
or
Jennifer Dimas
(970) 491-1543
jennifer.dimas@colostate.edu
or
Peter Caughey
(303) 492-4007
caughey@colorado.edu

The University of Michigan
News Service
412 Maynard
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1399


University of Michigan

Related Irrigation Articles from Brightsurf:

Water consumption for trees is calculated in order to design precision irrigation systems
A University of Cordoba and Spanish National Research Council research team validated an indicator based on using a tree's temperature to calculate relative water consumption at an almond tree plantation

Water-saving alternative forage crops for Texas livestock
With increasing drought conditions in the Texas High Plains, researchers test sorghum and pearl millet as alternatives to corn.

Technology is studied that could save 12% of the energy used in pressurized irrigation
A study, performed in two Andalusian provinces, analyzed the potential of producing electricity by means of recovering hydraulic energy by implanting new technology based on pumps working as turbines

Can oilfield water safely be reused for irrigation in California?
Reusing low-saline oilfield water mixed with surface water to irrigate farms in the Cawelo Water District of California does not pose major health risks, as some opponents of the practice have feared, a study led by Duke University and RTI International researchers finds.

Expansion, environmental impacts of irrigation by 2050 greatly underestimated
New research suggests that the amount of farmland that will need to be irrigated to feed the global population by 2050 could be up to several billion acres, far higher than scientists currently project.

Turned-down temperatures boost crops' penchant for production
Drought and heat put stress on plants and reduce grain yield.

Irrigation alleviates hot extremes
Researchers from ETH Zurich and other universities found evidence that expanding irrigation has dampened anthropogenic warming during hot days, with particularly strong effects over South Asia.

Specifying irrigation needs for container-grown plants
Open-field production of 524,000 irrigated acres of horticultural plants in the United States used 205 billion gallons of water in a recent year.

Water management grows farm profits
A study investigates effects of irrigation management on yield and profit.

Oil and gas wastewater used for irrigation may suppress plant immune systems
A new Colorado State University study gives pause to the idea of using oil and gas wastewater for irrigation.

Read More: Irrigation News and Irrigation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.