Reflections on Water and Agriculture - American Farmland Trust

We’ve detected that you are using an outdated browser.

Please use a new browser like Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Microsoft Edge to improve your experience.

We’ve detected that you are using an outdated browser.

Reflections on Water and Agriculture

We all depend on agriculture for food, fiber, and fuel. That reliance comes with several unintended consequences for water resources. In the U.S. and globally, agriculture is the largest source of sediment and nutrient runoff, causing water quality problems in streams, lakes, and bays. Farming is also the largest user of surface and groundwater, often at unsustainable levels. And agriculture contributes 10% of US climate emissions.  

The good news is that many farm conservation practices that address water concerns are climate-smart practices, too. For example, nutrient management reduces nutrient runoff to streams and nitrous oxide emissions (which have 273 times the global warming effect as carbon dioxide)! No-till and cover crops prevent soil erosion and increase water-holding capacity, which reduces water runoff and carbon dioxide emissions and sequesters carbon in the soil.

Here at American Farmland Trust, our staff scientists, economists, policy specialists, technical service providers, and ag educators are collaborating with farmers to address these challenges in water and agriculture. For example, we help farmers overcome their risk aversion to trying water-protecting practices like nutrient management, no-till, and cover crops by quantifying the return on investment that already “soil health successful” farmers have experienced from using these practices. Each of the featured farmers experienced increases in net income because of one or more of the following changes: reduced diesel fuel use and machinery costs, lowered fertilizer and chemical input costs, and stabilized or even increased yield. So, these water- and climate-protecting practices offer an environmental and economic win-win!  

We are also sharing our knowledge and experiences with government, non-profit, and private-sector conservation professionals. Our Water Quality Targeting Success Stories report provides valuable insights on achieving measurably cleaner water at the watershed scale. We are also conducting an Outcomes Estimation Tools Training Webinar series, empowering conservation professionals to estimate water quality outcomes using computer modeling tools. These initiatives are not just about learning but about equipping professionals with the tools and knowledge they need to make a real difference. Together, we can find solutions to the Colorado River water crisis by fostering common ground among farmers, environmental groups, cities, and government.  

These and other projects are being led by AFT’s Water Initiative, the Climate Initiative, the Resilient Agriculture West Initiative, and the AgConservation Initiative, along with dozens of Regional AFT Offices.   

Below, we’ve highlighted just a few of the many resources and stories from our Water Initiative team. We hope you enjoy the collection and continue supporting AFT’s work to save farmland and support farmers and ranchers across the country.   

*World Water Day, held on 22 March every year since 1993, is an annual United Nations Observance focusing on the importance of freshwater.

About the Author
Michelle Perez, PhD

Water Initiative Director

Read Bio