Agricultural solutions shared at UN Water Conference

March 22, 2023

Water is complex. We drink it, fish swim in it, and our crops need it. Water falls from the sky as rain, snow, and sleet. It’s also found in and above the ground. The water cycle touches each living thing on the planet. And, as the ultimate land stewards, farmers, ranchers, and foresters have opportunities to keep water moving and providing clean, abundant H2O while producing food, fiber, feed, and fuel.

We don’t often think of bodies of water—lakes, streams, oceans—as part of the land, but their health is tightly intertwined with that of soils, plants, animals and people. With droughts and other extreme weather events holding back or dumping too much rain on the land, global leaders are trying to ensure the planet’s water supply can support its 8 billion people now and into the future. Agricultural producers, who both use and restore water through their management practices, are right in the middle of these water challenges—and they are part of the solution.

As international leaders set out to develop a Water Action Agenda during the United Nations 2023 Water Conference this week, Solutions from the Land will lead a side event in the Nature Hub that will interject agricultural expertise and stimulate collaborative conversation on how farmers, ranchers, foresters and the entire agricultural value chain are leading the way in enhancing water management and what they need to take what they are doing to the next level.

The session, “Sustainable Agricultural Water Use Offers Solutions: Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration to Advance Shared SDGs,” will feature case studies of how enhanced agricultural water management practices—including precision irrigation, conservation drainage and well-organized, voluntary collaborations—are cleaning up watersheds, including the Ganges River and Ogallala Aquifer, and making more efficient use of water across the world.  

Jocelyn Anderson, an SfL farmer envoy who is the fourth generation on her family’s farm in Northern California, will share a producer’s perspective on water management during the event. Her family grows almonds and walnuts in a region where drought and competing needs make water a major concern. They monitor moisture in their orchards’ soils using probes at 3, 6, 9 and 12 feet and in the trees themselves by testing leaves for water stress. Then they set irrigation to release just the right amount of water when and where it’s needed, targeted to the row.

Other speakers will include representatives from Cargill, Nutrien, The Nature Conservancy, Netafim and Ducks Unlimited, all working on tools, technologies and programs to further support agricultural producers in reducing water consumption while boosting productivity.

Solutions may come in the form of precision technologies, improved institutional and infrastructural capacity, production practices, and crop breeding. Big ideas are formulating in agriculture on how to better manage and reinvigorate water supplies, but none of them can be accomplished alone.

“Scalability is one of the major hurdles we need to consider in being able to transfer information and practices about water management,” says Dr. Jerry Hatfield, recently retired director for the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and a SfL senior adviser. “Water in agriculture is complex.”

Hatfield is the keynote speaker for the event and will moderate the panel discussion with insight on land-based water management opportunities and needs.

This event seeks to catalyze collaboration, innovation, and leadership—emphasizing the inextricable linkages between agricultural water resource management, water quality, climate resilience, biodiversity, food security, and multi-sector and multi-state collaboration and investment—to advance sustainable development goals.

Solutions from the Land looks forward to bringing together water stakeholders and advancing farmer-centered water solutions that will benefit all of society.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.