“The Third Way”: Accommodating Agriculture and Urban Growth

August 22, 2012

Arizona faces growing strains on its limited water supply as urban growth competes for land and water resources against agricultural uses.  Often this issue is posed as one prevailing over  the other, but, in fact, there is a “third way.”   We can actually improve crop yields by using less water, and by reviewing crop choices can also improve economic gains.

Allowing and encouraging agriculture in central Arizona to transition to higher value urban uses seems a foregone conclusion, given the projected population growth and relative value of agriculture to the state’s economy. It may not be, however, the right policy choice. Building on arable acres removes that land permanently from producing food and fiber at a time when increased production worldwide is a necessity. Maintaining Arizona agriculture at some robust level should be a priority for all of us. Arizona agriculture can supply food needs as well as contribute to solving a global food crisis. It provides open space and for Yuma and Pinal counties especially, the main source of economic activity. Farms can provide a flexible buffer for water supplies during times of serious drought. To do this, while continuing to grow amidst a changing climate, requires that we all become more efficient in the way we use water, including and especially, agricultural water use. It is in our interest to construct a state agricultural water policy based on smarter urban growth, more efficient water use, and a commitment to agriculture that reflects local and global markets while operating in an arid landscape.

Policy changes that would assist farmers in investing in new technologies include property tax breaks for farmers who invest in water-saving irrigation systems and developing financing mechanisms through water districts whereby they invest in farmer’s water-saving technology and in return get access to the water saved.