Wise use of water resources not lost on Arizona's cattle, dairy industries

The 107th Arizona town hall meeting, held in Mesa in November, focused on “keeping Arizona's water glass full” and addressed the last 15 years of drought, increasing population growth, federal regulatory oversight and growing environmental concerns.


Arizona's dairy and cattle industries are well aware of the importance of water use regulations.  

The 107th Arizona town hall meeting, held in Mesa in November, focused on “keeping Arizona's water glass full” and addressed the last 15 years of drought, increasing population growth, federal regulatory oversight and growing environmental concerns.

While Arizona’s most populated areas are not currently facing a water crisis, some rural areas are seeing more immediate problems; and experts agree that without action, Arizona could face a gap between demand for water and available supplies in the next 25 to 100 years.

Agricultural industries, especially dairy production and cattle ranching, are well aware of the importance of water regulations and how it can affect each industry.

In regards to water in the cattle industry, “drinking water for cattle is ‘peanuts’ compared to water usage in the state for the dairy industry, especially with regards to watering the alfalfa that is produced for the dairy cows; it is much more prominent.” Russell Tronstad, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Arizona, recently told Arizona Business Daily.

Tronstad said that the cattle industry uses water for livestock drinking water, dust control, feed mixing, fire protection and other purposes. Maximum annual allotments are based on water use needs per head of cattle.

Despite these current regulations, Tronstad said that he was not “currently aware of any real issues, mainly because the cattle industry is pretty on top of most of the debates on one side or the other.”

“The only real debate is in regards to endangered species and water dispersal among the industry as a whole, especially at certain times of the year, as well as shrinking habitats for indigenous species to make more room for cattle land.” Tronstad said.

Tronstad said cattle ranching is much more sustainable than it was 30 years ago. Compared with beef production in the 1970s, each pound of beef produced today produces 16 percent less carbon emissions, takes 33 percent less land and requires 12 percent less water. 

“Efficient use of water is imperative in an arid climate, and Arizona has done a good job in the past of implementing conservation measures,” the town hall meeting concluded. “Agriculture has made great strides in conserving water resources, thanks to technological advances and improved farming and irrigation methods.”

Much of this water use reduction is because many ranchers are currently using technology to help reduce energy and water use. Some use solar power for electric water pumps or use biofuels in equipment. Many also actively work with university agricultural departments, such as the University of Arizona, to evolve the science of resource management.

With such collaboration, “the industry is prepared for any roadblocks.” Tronstad said.

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