Water Usage In The Agricultural Industry

Infographic on water usage in agriculture.

How Much Water Does The Agricultural Industry Use?

On average, farms around the world account for 70% of all water that is consumed annually. Of that 70% used by farmers, 40% is lost to the environment due to poor irrigation systems, evaporation, and overall poor water management. 

As the world continues to increase in population, demand for food and water will continue to rise. By understanding how our water is currently utilized in agriculture, we can continue to learn and discover new methods of farming to maximize production as well as conserve our water supply.

How Is That Water Allocated?

As previously mentioned, 70% of the world’s water is used for agriculture annually. That’s over 2 quadrillion gallons of water, enough to cover the entire United States in 2 feet of water. To understand how we use most of this precious resource we need to understand how it is allocated.


Farming livestock requires a considerable amount of water due to the amount of animals that need to be fed, cleaned, and maintained. The water intensive form of farming livestock is dairy farming. For just one milking cow, daily water usage is roughly 40-50 gallons when accounting for basic consumption and hygiene. However, when looking at livestock as a whole, it accounts for just 30% of the 2 quadrillion gallons used for agriculture annually.

Water footprints per one animal:

Dairy Cow: requires 40-50 gallons of water a day

Beef Cattle: requires 20-30 gallons of water a day

Pigs: require 5-10 gallons of water a day


Farming fruits and vegetables requires the most amount of water to keep plants hydrated to produce enough food to feed the country. For example, to grow one pound of coffee 2,500 gallons of water will be used. Plants require consistent amounts of water everyday to take their life cycle from seed all the way to harvest. Another reason why farming produce requires such a large percentage of water when compared to farming livestock due to a large amount of the water being wasted through irrigation.

Water footprints per one pound of produce:

Rice: 650 gallons per pound

Wheat: 130 gallons per pound

Soybeans: 240 gallons per pound

Sugar: 400 gallons per pound

Coffee: 2,500 gallons per pound

Can Agricultural Water Usage Be More Efficient?

Through antiquated irrigation practices and the mismanagement of resources, roughly 40% of the water used for farming every year is underutilized. Irrigation is the process used by farmers to water their crops. They use large sprinkler heads to cover their fields and shower their crops in intervals. Through this process of irrigation, about half of the water used will be evaporated, run off the field, or get lost in transit. 

This water that would otherwise be utilized elsewhere, is now put back into the environment where it will need to be reacquired and distributed, thus wasting time, energy, and money.

How Do We Improve Water Conservation In Agriculture?

There are plenty of ways in which farms can better use our water supply. Through the process of drip irrigation farmers can supply water directly to the roots of their crops rather than sprinkling the water on top. Through properly installed drip irrigation systems, farmers can save up to 80% more water than standard sprinkler irrigation systems. Additionally, by creating ponds and reservoirs, farmers can draw their supply from there, taking the pressure off of local watersheds.

As the practice of farming changes, and the number of people on Earth grows, we must continue to look for more ways to conserve and maintain our global water supply. By striving towards efficient irrigation methods, improved means of control and monitoring, and increasing access to usable water we can continue to use less and provide more to those who need it most.