Embedded Water Footprint of In-Field Crop Loss

Full Title: Estimating the Blue Water Footprint of In-Field Crop Losses: A Case Study of U.S. Potato Cultivation
Authors: Edward S Spang and Bret D Stevens
Publication:  Sustainability 2018, Volume 10, Number 8 // Published 11 August 2018
Article Link 1 // Article Link 2

Abstract: Given the high proportion of water consumption for agriculture, as well as the relatively common occurrence of crop losses in the field, we estimate the amount of water embedded in crops left on the farm. We are particularly interested in understanding losses associated with fruits and vegetables, having a higher level of harvesting selectivity and perishability (and thus, losses) than grain crops. We further refined the study to focus on potatoes, as they represent the largest acreage under cultivation of all fruit and vegetable crops in the U.S. We attempt to get the most complete understanding of pre-harvest and harvest loss data for potatoes by leveraging three centralized data sets collected and managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). By integrating these three distinct data sets for the five-year period 2012–2016, we are able to estimate water consumption for potato cultivation for total in-field losses by production stage and driver of loss for seven major potato-producing states (representing 77% of total U.S. potato production). Our results suggest that 3.6%–17.9% of potatoes are lost in the field with a total estimated blue water footprint of approximately 84.6 million cubic meters. We also find that the leading driver for crop loss for in-field potato production is harvest sorting and grading, accounting for 84% of total lost production at the farm. We conclude with a discussion of opportunities for improved national level data collection to provide a better understanding of in-field crop losses over time and the resource footprints of these losses.

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