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Closing Water and Agricultural Productivity Gaps

What areas of the world have the greatest potential for intensification of crop growth? What expectations should a region or country have for its long-term food self-sufficiency? Is water being used efficiently in agriculture? How can farmers maintain or increase crop production profitability given fixed or declining access to water resources? These are just some of the questions answered by focusing on water and agricultural productivity. Closing productivity gaps means producing the greatest amounts of food crops with the the most efficient use of water, based on local or regional potential. The impacts include better prioritization of resources in agricultural research and development, better policies related tofood security and natural resources, and optimization of water inputs considering energy cost and water availability.

Target outcomes include: 

  • Developing and deploying global satellite-based decision support and monitoring tools based on daily evapotranspiration estimates in key agricultural areas in the U.S. and selected countries.
  • Improving knowledge of best practices to close water and agricultural productivity gaps for key irrigation decision-makers in the U.S. and selected countries and regions (e.g. Iowa, Nebraska, Brazil, India, and the MENA region).
  • Influencing the adoption of technology and best practices to improve water productivity in key agricultural areas in Nebraska and participating countries.

Improving Groundwater Management for Agricultural Production

Managing groundwater resources sustainably is vital for long-term food security in many countries, including the U.S. Sustainability includes spacing withdrawals to avoid excessive depletion and taking measures to safeguard or improve groundwater quality. This involves monitoring efforts to establish historic and current conditions, research to model groundwater systems, and policy to manage activities influencing groundwater quantity and quality. Understanding local conditions is key, as groundwater may be both an over-and under-utilized resource. The key impact is coordinating action that utilizes groundwater effectively and efficiently, while maintaining the availability of the resource for future generations.

Target outcomes include:

  • Identifying and improving knowledge of best practices and cost effective groundwater management policies given local context, climate conditions and constraints in key areas in the US and selected countries.
  • Influencing groundwater governance and policy through education and pilot programs, demonstrating best management practices and developing innovative technology for areas in selected U.S. states and other countries.
  • Establishing and applying new methods to monitor improvements in groundwater conditions in selected areas that are currently degraded (e.g., quality, streamflow, depletion). 

Enhancing High-productivity Irrigated Agriculture

Using high-efficiency irrigation enables farmers to grow higher yields, a wider variety of crops, and be less vulnerable to risks from the absence of rainwater. DWFI’s research activities range from high-tech solutions, such as smart water meters and variable rate irrigation, for areas like Nebraska with well-established irrigation practices; to scalable and community-based irrigation strategies, such as shared-center pivots, for smallholder farmers in developing countries. The impacts include higher yields and profitability for farmers with associated socio-economic opportunities.

Target outcomes include:

  • Identifying and improving knowledge of cost-effective practices for water and energy use in agriculture.
  • Influencing the adoption of technology and best practices to improve water and energy use in agriculture in the U.S. as well as selected countries and regions.
  • Documenting the improved use efficiency of water and energy resources in agricultural production as a result of DWFI activities, including DWFI Faculty Fellow projects and other partnerships. 

Supporting Freshwater and Agriculture Ecosystems and Public Health

Water use for agriculture, food processing, and other competing needs impacts public health and local communities though water quality, water availability, nutrition, and food safety concerns. Understanding the interactions between these issues enables informed local or regional management actions that balance competing uses of water, protect or restore surface and groundwater quality, improve nutrition, enable water re-use, and support public health campaigns.

Target outcomes include:

  • Developing new methods and facilitating the adoption of water quality management best practices
  • Influencing the adoption of agricultural practices that minimize negative impacts on water quality in Nebraska and selected countries.
  • Influencing the adoption of viable water markets in selected U.S. regions and countries.
  • Developing new methods and  sharing knowledge about water re-use and other water conservation approaches in dairy and other food processing industries.

Managing Agricultural Drought

Periodic drought is a threat to food and water security in the multiple regions of the world, many of which are also facing challenges from limited water supply, political instability, and desertification. Drought is also a re-occurring risk requiring preparedness and planning to minimize negative effects. DWFI’s is working to build knowledge of current and potential drought risk, and mitigation strategies. The impact of such efforts includes empowering decision-makers to plan for and manage the impacts of droughts on food and water security under current and future climate conditions, such as by implementing regional/national drought management plans. 

Target outcomes include:

  • Developing and disseminating information and tools to build resilience to drought in agricultural systems in selected countries and regions, such as the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Influencing the adoption of tools and policies to reduce vulnerability and build agricultural resilience to drought in selected U.S. regions and countries


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