Agriculture’s water economy has demonstrated growing signs of strain. Recent and persistent extreme weather-related events have highlighted the vulnerability of food and agricultural production to substantial variations in water availability. Consistent water availability is critical to agricultural production everywhere, and intensifying scarcity presents global agriculture with a formidable long-term challenge. Agricultural production has evolved, to a significant extent, on the basis of available water resources, both surface water and groundwater. However, there are growing concerns about the long-term trajectories of water availability and the potential implications for global agriculture.

The 2016 Agricultural Symposium, “Agriculture’s Water Economy” explored the dynamic link between agriculture and water, the role of markets and institutions, and the path forward. The first day of the symposium discussed how the outlook for agriculture depends on long-term water availability, and how the challenges of water scarcity might extend beyond the farm gate. The second day of the symposium discussed how the agricultural sector might adapt through investment, and the role of markets and institutions in addressing issues of long-term water scarcity.

2016 Agricultural Symposium Materials
PDF2016 Ag Symposium Research, published in a special issue of the Economic Review
Summary article from TEN Magazine
PDFSymposium transcript
PDFSymposium program

Keynote Address

The keynote presentation described the recent trends surrounding water scarcity, including a discussion of factors driving global demand for water and key areas of supply concerns going forward.

Mark Rosegrant, Director, Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute  

Session 1: Long-Term Trajectories

This session discussed the likely outcomes for global agriculture over the long-term stemming from issues surrounding water scarcity.

Kenneth Cassman, Emeritus Professor of Agronomy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Pat Westhoff
, Professor and Director, Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute-University of Missouri 

Chris Hartley
, Environmental Markets Analyst, United States Department of Agriculture
Guillaume Gruere, Senior Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Session 2: Scarcity Beyond the Farm Gate

This session discussed how industries beyond commercial agricultural production view the challenges of water scarcity, the implications for regional economies, and how other business sectors might adapt to long-term scarcity.

Bonnie Colby, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Arizona  

Brad Udall
, Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist, Colorado State University

Ellen Hanak
, Director, Public Policy Institute of California
Les Lampe, Former Vice President and Director of Water Resources, Black & Veatch 

Dinner Keynote

Esther George, President and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Session 3: Investing in Adaptation

This session discussed how agriculture might respond to water scarcity, investments being made, and potential efficiency gains that might position the agricultural sector to better adapt to the constraints of long-term water availability.

Susanne Scheierling
, Senior Irrigation Water Economist, World Bank  

Qiuqiong Huang
, Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Arkansas

John Hamer, Managing Director, Monsanto Growth Ventures 
Robert Meaney, Former Chairman-International, Valmont Industries

Concluding Discussion

Richard Howitt
, Professor Emeritus, University of California-Davis