There is no doubt agriculture is the largest user of water in terms of the amount of water lost from the soil during the crop production process.

Crop water use, or evapotranspiration, represents soil evaporation and the water used by a crop for growth and cooling purposes.  However, in terms of the amount of water taken out of streams for use in growing crops, agriculture is far down the list.

Speaking at the recent Cotton Competitiveness Conference, Ed Barnes, senior director of agricultural and environmental research for Cotton Incorporated, says cotton often gets the bad rap for being a ‘water hog’.

In reality, cotton production worldwide uses only about 3 percent of the total amount used by agriculture.

In the United States, Barnes says that water usage for cotton ranks between oranges and alfalfa in terms of the amount of water needed to produce a crop.

It takes only .02 inch of water to produce a pound of cotton and less than half the world’s cotton production is irrigated.

Barnes notes that the number of irrigated acres of cotton has gone down over the past few years, and at the same time cotton yields have gone up.

He says the cotton industry should adapt three basic strategies to insure production isn’t lumped in with heavy users of waters:

• Maximize water/rainfall capture;

• Optimize irrigation usage;

• Invest heavily in developing plants that are more water efficient.

Grains in general, and corn in particular, have grown in popularity among growers in the Southeast, but these crops use more water than cotton.