Supporting Farms and Domestic Food Production for America

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

By Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

In today’s globalized world, ensuring that Americans can depend on local food production is more critical than ever. The California Farm Water Coalition, dedicated to raising awareness about the connection between farm water and our food supply, has released three educational fact sheets shedding light on the water needed to produce the food Californians consume daily, and the risk we face from unsustainable foreign food production.

Where Does Farm Water Go?
California’s population of 39 million requires a staggering 11.3 trillion gallons of water annually to grow enough food and fiber to meet its needs, as described in the fact sheet, “Where Does Farm Water Go?”. However, current water supplies fall short, leaving a gap of 38 percent between the water used to grow our food and the demand on food production by the state’s population. Despite a 14 percent decline in water usage by California farms over the past 35 years, the growing population will require an additional 1 million acre-feet of water annually just to meet this growing food supply demand. This trend underscores the urgency of managing both water resources and food production in the face of climate uncertainty.

Sample Daily Menu
The second fact sheet, “Sample Daily Menu,” breaks down the water requirements for a selection of menu items for one person over a day, based on the USDA MyPlate recipe guide. For three meals, plus snacks and beverages, the total daily water requirement to produce the menu of items amounts to 810.3 gallons per person for a single day’s meals. Most people think of daily water consumption as water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, and outdoor watering. This insight into the water footprint using a daily menu highlights the significance of nutrition as a significant part of our daily water demand.

Why Local Production Matters
America’s grocery stores may seem brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, but behind the vibrant displays lies a sobering truth: a significant portion of these products are imported from other countries. The third CFWC fact sheet, “Our Food Supply – Sustainability & Imports,” opens the door to discussions about the policies and regulations that have made Americans more dependent on foreign-produced food.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a staggering 60.9% of the fresh fruit and 38.8% of the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States are sourced from abroad.

That’s a 228% increase of fruit and 479% increase of vegetable imports since 1980. This heavy reliance on imports poses a concerning risk to the security and sustainability of our food supply, particularly given the alarming challenges overseas producers face, from political strife, war, degrading natural resources, and inconsistent food safety standards.

Unsustainable Water Use
Foreign food products have been a boon for American consumers, however, the reliance on these products come with deeper concerns: unsustainable water supplies. Of total fruit and vegetable imports, Mexico now accounts for 69 percent of fresh vegetables and 51 percent of fresh fruits that make their way to the United States. This greater dependence on foreign production has other consequences as well. Local businesses that depend on farm production lose out when agricultural production shifts to other countries, just as they did when water shortages devastated Sacramento Valley rice production in 2022.

Mexico is also one of the world’s largest exporters of nuts, with the water-stressed region of Chihuahua a major source of walnut production in the country. During the past 30 years, total nut production has grown significantly in Mexico, with production increasing over 640% from 47,405 tons in 1992 to 304,747 tons in 2022. Walnuts alone have dominated the increase in tree nut production, growing from 2,900 tons in 1992 to more than 176,000 tons in 2022, according to USDA.

Large swaths of Mexican farmland, including regions around Mexicali and the Baja Peninsula are irrigated with water supplies that are not sustainable. The new CFWC fact sheet highlights the rising cost of food in America, UN projections of the growing global food demand, and that overseas producers are not required to meet the same health and safety standards that are common in California.

Planning for the Future
To protect America’s food supply, elected officials and policymakers must consider the long-term effects of their actions. This means making more careful decisions about the policies and regulations that affect farmers who grow our food.

In California, we need to be doing things like investing in water supply infrastructure, such as Sites Reservoir, and in ecosystem efforts, like Healthy Rivers and Landscapes. Supporting sustainability for fish, waterfowl, and the farmers who grow our food helps protect Americans from disruptions in our food supply. And they’re investments that make sense for all of California.

Find all three fact sheets online at:

Mike Wade is the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

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