Peak grain forecasts for the US High Plains amid withering waters

A. Mrad* (Corresponding Author), G.G. Katul, D.F. Levia, A.J. Guswa, E.W. Boyer, M. Bruen, D.E. Carlyle-Moses, R. Coyte, I.F. Creed, N. Van De Giesen, D. Grasso, D.M. Hannah, J.E. Hudson, V. Humphrey, S. Iida, R.B. Jackson, T. Kumagai, P. Llorens, B. Michalzik, K. NankoC.A. Peters, J.S. Selker, D. Tetzlaff, M. Zalewski, B.R. Scanlon

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)
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    Irrigated agriculture contributes 40% of total global food production. In the US High Plains, which produces more than 50 million tons per year of grain, as much as 90% of irrigation originates from groundwater resources, including the Ogallala aquifer. In parts of the High Plains, groundwater resources are being depleted so rapidly that they are considered nonrenewable, compromising food security. When groundwater becomes scarce, groundwater withdrawals peak, causing a subsequent peak in crop production. Previous descriptions of finite natural resource depletion have utilized the Hubbert curve. By coupling the dynamics of groundwater pumping, recharge, and crop production, Hubbert-like curves emerge, responding to the linked variations in groundwater pumping and grain production. On a state level, this approach predicted when groundwater withdrawal and grain production peaked and the lag between them. The lags increased with the adoption of efficient irrigation practices and higher recharge rates. Results indicate that, in Texas, withdrawals peaked in 1966, followed by a peak in grain production 9 y later. After better irrigation technologies were adopted, the lag increased to 15 y from 1997 to 2012. In Kansas, where these technologies were employed concurrently with the rise of irrigated grain production, this lag was predicted to be 24 y starting in 1994. In Nebraska, grain production is projected to continue rising through 2050 because of high recharge rates. While Texas and Nebraska had equal irrigated output in 1975, by 2050, it is projected that Nebraska will have almost 10 times the groundwater-based production of Texas.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)26145-26150
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number42
    Early online date5 Oct 2020
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020

    Bibliographical note

    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This paper stems from discussions during the Ettersburg Ecohydrology Workshop in Germany (October 2018), with the corresponding manuscript preparation ensuing in subsequent months. The
    workshop was funded by the UNIDEL Foundation, Inc. and the University of Delaware. Accordingly, partial support for this paper derived from
    funding for the workshop. A.M. was supported by the US NSF (Grants
    NSF-AGS-1644382 and NSF-IOS-175489).

    Data Availability Statement

    Data Availability. All study data are included in the article and SI Appendix


    • crop production
    • groundwater
    • Hubbert curve
    • Ogallala aquifer
    • peak water


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