Water experts from business, government and academia, including the president of Valmont's Irrigation Division, gathered at an international forum recently to discuss a number of global water issues, including the scarcity of fresh water, which is expected to be a key issue around the earth in the next two decades.

The World Water Forum was held in Kyoto, Japan, in March. The United Nations has declared 2003 the International Year of Fresh Water. The World Water Forum was the central event, with more than 100,000 people expected to have attended the expo and policy sessions.

Thomas Spears, president of Valmont's irrigation division presented a paper at the forum proposing that modern, water-efficient irrigation technology can make a major contribution to the acute problem of global water scarcity.

Valmont, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., is the world leader in manufacturing mechanized irrigation equipment for agriculture and is involved in water projects in 170 countries.

Spears said the growth in human population, combined with economic development, is causing pressure on water resources. “The water demand of our thirsty cities, factories and farms will soon exceed the available water supply,” said Spears.

“Despite these pressures, society keeps water prices very low and the economics of water could soon lead to a crisis in many parts of the world.”

Spears told conference attendees that agriculture is keenly aware of the limitations of the water supply, and that there are solutions available with today's technologies that that can stretch that supply of water in agriculture for more efficient food production.

Another Valmont Irrigation representative, Dominic Longo, also spoke at the conference. He said irrigation is the primary user of fresh water, but without it, there is no hope for a world food supply.

“Agriculture has the greatest potential for solving the problem of global water scarcity,” he said. “Since agricultural irrigation accounts for more than 65 percent of fresh water usage, improving irrigation efficiency is the most important step toward addressing human water needs.”

Spears said nations must use modern, mechanized irrigation methods, such as center pivots or drip irrigation to grow crops, because it uses half as much water as traditional flood irrigation. It also produces higher crop yields.

“In addition to the equipment itself, effective training of farmers is necessary since poor management can easily offset most of the water savings and yield gains made possible with the equipment.”

In response to suggestions of switching agricultural production to dry land farming, Spears says, thereis “a lot of land that's suitable for irrigation that really can't be farmed effectively without irrigation. Most of the dry land crop production acres have been developed over the many centuries of human civilization, and are in production now.”