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Western Irrigated Agriculture is a Strategic National Resource: Refocusing Ag Critics

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Patrick O’Toole

Fifteen years ago, Family Farm Alliance leaders began ramping up efforts to convey the growing concerns many had with what they were seeing happen across the West. Agricultural water supplies were being reallocated to meet growing urban and environmental water demands.

We started asking our political leaders pointed questions we thought demanded answers. At what point will too much agricultural land be taken out of production? Do we want to rely on imported food for safety and security? 

We pointed out to policymakers, Europeans, who have starved within memory, understood the importance of preserving their food production capability. They recognized it for the national security issue it is. And some of those countries still do.

Earlier this month, Business Post reported all farmers in Ireland will be asked to plant some of their land in wheat, barley and other grains, as part of emergency plans being drawn up by the government to offset a predicted food security crisis in Europe amid Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine.

The Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report in 2010 first quantified the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth and the pace required to meet future world food needs. The report predicted total global agricultural output would have to be doubled by the year 2050 to meet the food needs of a growing global population.

There was, for a long time, an inborn appreciation and awareness by our own policy leaders for the critical importance of a stable food supply. Now, it appears many simply assume food is something coming from the local grocery store. Our arguments in support of Western irrigated agriculture have in recent years been drowned in a flood of commentary from faraway critics who downplay and even criticize the importance of using water to produce affordable and safe food and fiber.

Politicians, activists and the media appear to favor another message: Climate change is destroying the planet, and we must take immediate and drastic action to halt it.

Meanwhile, the more pressing need to produce 50 percent more food worldwide in the coming decades to fill the looming global “food gap” is hardly mentioned at all.

At a time when the future of Ukraine’s ability to help feed the outside world is at risk, the world’s best producers – Western irrigators – are watching their water flushed to the sea to purportedly help fish populations. Decades of empirical evidence has failed so far to show a positive response from those targeted fish to such water shifting schemes. Meanwhile, our ability to increase food productivity is further diminished.

The grim global hunger conditions we once expected to encounter in 2050 may now hit us a decade ahead of schedule.

The U.S. needs a stable domestic food supply, just as it needs a stable energy supply. As we teeter on the brink of world war, this stability becomes even more pressing.

Earlier this month, the Family Farm Alliance released a white paper outlining the insanity of the current situation, where our government is taking actions to withhold water from the world’s best food producers, at a time when global food shortage looms. I encourage you to download it and read further.

Western irrigated agriculture is a strategic national resource, and the role of the federal government in the 21st century should be to protect and enhance this resource. There may never be a better time than now for thoughtful and courageous leaders to stand up and shout down the critics and back seat drivers who don’t have a single minute’s worth of experience in the Western water arena.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

At the Family Farm Alliance, we will continue our efforts to ensure Western irrigated agriculture continues to play a vital role in feeding our nation, while keeping our rural communities and the environment healthy.

At a time of unprecedented change, one certainty holds firm and true – our nation’s most valuable natural resource must be preserved. 

Patrick O’Toole is president of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts and allied industries in 17 Western states.

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