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Analysis of alfalfa production in a water-stressed region: a dynamical modeling approach

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Alfalfa is a major feed crop widely cultivated in the United States. It is the fourth largest crop in acreage in the US after corn, soybean, and all types of

Alfalfa is a major feed crop widely cultivated in the United States. It is the fourth largest crop in acreage in the US after corn, soybean, and all types of wheat. As of 2003, about 48% of alfalfa was produced in the western US states where alfalfa ranks first, second, or third in crop acreage. Considering that the western US is historically water-scarce and alfalfa is a water-intensive crop, it creates a concern about exacerbating the current water crisis in the US west. Furthermore, the recent increased export of alfalfa from the western US states to China and the United Arab Emirates has fueled the debate over the virtual water content embedded in the crop. In this study, I analyzed changes of cropland systems under the three basic scenarios, using a stylized model with a combination of dynamical, hydrological, and economic elements. The three scenarios are 1) international demands for alfalfa continue to grow (or at least to stay high), 2) deficit irrigation is widely imposed in the dry region, and 3) long-term droughts persist or intensify reducing precipitation. The results of this study sheds light on how distribution of crop areas responds to climatic, economic, and institutional conditions. First, international markets, albeit small compared to domestic markets, provide economic opportunities to increase alfalfa acreage in the dry region. Second, potential water savings from mid-summer deficit irrigation can be used to expand alfalfa production in the dry region. Third, as water becomes scarce, farmers more quickly switch to crops that make more economic use of the limited water.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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Water efficiency in agriculture: a study of the adoption of water conserving and profitable irrigation technology in Arizona

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With the projected population growth, the need to produce higher agricultural yield to meet projected demand is hindered by water scarcity. Out of many the approaches that could be implemented

With the projected population growth, the need to produce higher agricultural yield to meet projected demand is hindered by water scarcity. Out of many the approaches that could be implemented to meet the water gap, intensification of agriculture through adoption of advanced agricultural irrigation techniques is the focus for this research. Current high water consumption by agricultural sector in Arizona is due to historical dominance in the state economy and established water rights. Efficiency gained in agricultural water use in Arizona has the most potential to reduce the overall water consumption. This research studies the agricultural sector and water management of several counties in Arizona (Maricopa, Pinal, and Yuma). Several research approaches are employed: modeling of agricultural technology adoption using replicator dynamics, interview with water managers and farmers, and Arizona water management law and history review. Using systems thinking, the components of the local farming environment are documented through socio-ecological system/robustness lenses. The replicator dynamics model is employed to evaluate possible conditions in which water efficient agricultural irrigation systems proliferate. The evaluation of conditions that promote the shift towards advanced irrigation technology is conducted through a combination of literature review, interview data, and model analysis. Systematic shift from the currently dominant flood irrigation toward a more water efficient irrigation technologies could be attributed to the followings: the increase in advanced irrigation technology yield efficiency; the reduction of advanced irrigation technology implementation and maintenance cost; the change in growing higher value crop; and the change in growing/harvesting time where there is less competition from other states. Insights learned will further the knowledge useful for this arid state's agricultural policy decision making that will both adhere to the water management goals and meet the projected food production and demand gap.

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  • 2014