Irrigation means billions of dollars to Nebraska economy
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
People in southwest Nebraska already know the value irrigation plays in the economy, especially during periods of drought like 2012.
A statewide study released Tuesday showed the economic impact of irrigation during last year’s drought totalled nearly $11 billion.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau commissioned the study to identify the role that irrigation played in the drought year of 2012.
The study was conducted by Decision Innovation Solutions, a research firm located in Des Moines, Iowa.
The study showed that irrigation boosted Nebraska’s economy by $11 billion in the drought year of 2012.
As part of the $11 billion impact, Nebraska would have lost $5.5 billion in value-added product income and another $3.3 billion in lost labor income.
In terms of jobs, Nebraska would have had 31,221 fewer jobs without irrigation.
Economic impact estimates were calculated comparing Nebraska’s economic activity with and without farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to irrigate in 2012.
Rollover of dollars
Spencer Parkinson with Decision Innovation Solutions said they looked at the yield impact during the drought years of 2002 and 2003 to help build a foundation for the 2012 study.
He said they looked at the difference in yields between dryland and irrigated crops. A reduction in yield loss directly impacts the rollover of dollars in a local economy, he added.
Parkinson said the study shows how Nebraska’s ag economy is so interconnected, not just in outstate Nebraska but in Lincoln and Omaha, too.
Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said irrigation is a major driver of the economy and job creation in Nebraska.
“We knew irrigation was important to our farm and ranch members, but the study shows the benefits of water for irrigation stretch well beyond the farm gate,” Nelson said.
Putting into perspective
He said Farm Bureau decided to do the study to identify the role that irrigation played in 2012.
He said the last time they did such a study was in 2003.
To put the $11 billion impact into perspective, he said it’s the equivalent of every Nebraskan filling their vehicle with gasoline roughly 100 times at $3.50 per gallon.
“We’re talking about a significant contribution to the state,” he said.
He added the employment contributions of irrigation are staggering.
“If you put all of the jobs protected by irrigation into one county, it would make for the 10th largest county by population in the state,” he said.
Nelson also pointed out that Nebraska has more irrigation than in other state in the U.S., with California second.
The value of that irrigation can be seen directly in the difference between irrigated and dryland corn yields in 2012.
Yield stats for 2012 from the Lincoln office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) showed irrigated yields averaged 190.1 bushels per acre, while dryland yields came in at 58.5 bushels, not counting acres chopped for silage or abandoned because of drought.
Parkinson said in Iowa, the average yield for corn came in at 124 bushels last year. That’s 66 bushels less compared to Nebraska’s irrigated corn yield average. The yield losses in Missouri and Illinois were more drastic than in Iowa.
“There’s certainly an advantage having irrigation in Nebraska,” he said.