To address this issue, Arable has entered a three-year water sustainability initiative
centered on reducing water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer to irrigate the agricultural fields above it. Since widespread irrigation began in the 1950s, about 9%
of the total recoverable reserve has been pumped out, to varying degrees by state and year, largely dependent on local weather patterns.
Knowing more about how these weather patterns play out can go a long way towards reducing the need to irrigate, which will lessen costs to growers and lower nutrient runoff downstream.
In 2016, a group of corporations across the American food production, distribution, and retail spectrum aligned with conservation organizations to identify and reproduce
ways to mitigate the environmental impact of the agricultural supply chain, with a focus on air, soil, and watershed stewardship in three pilot states: Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. The idea of a cross-border coalition makes sense in the context of environmental protection, since the effects of unchecked emissions, erosion, and runoff extend far beyond the jurisdictions in which they originate. Illinois and Iowa share a border defined by the Mississippi River, which drains into the Gulf of Mexico, and Nebraska lies almost entirely atop the vast Ogallala Aquifer, which feeds eight states. Out of this grew our project with the hope to scale up success from the 50 participating Nebraska farms — spread over 75,000 acres — to the entire region, and perhaps even take lessons learned global.
A top-down initiative such as this has unique potential to support growers in doing what they do best: innovate.
Farmers are the ones with boots on the ground and hands in the dirt; the last few millennia of human progress rest on a scaffold of agricultural ingenuity born out in the field. As a result, our modern food system is so intricately embedded in a global supply chain that it can be easy to lose sight of the significance one farmer can have as a change agent within the larger web, and overwhelming to take that next step out of one’s comfort zone to define and adapt to new norms.
Meanwhile, large agribusinesses have the power to lobby lawmakers on behalf of their growers and initiate change on a scale that is all but impossible on an individual level. And doing so within a framework laid out by conservation partner organizations lends an important credibility to the project, ensuring that lower costs, higher yields, and farmer livelihoods don’t come at the expense of environmental wellbeing.