Agricultural production remains particularly vulnerable to weather fluctuations and extreme events, such as droughts, floods, and heat waves. Crop insurance is a risk management tool developed to mitigate some of this weather risk and protect farmer income in times of poor production. However, crop insurance may have unintended consequences for water resources sustainability, as the vast majority of freshwater withdrawals go to agriculture. The causal impact of crop insurance on water use in agriculture remains poorly understood. Here, we determine the empirical relationship between crop insurance and irrigation water withdrawals in the United States. Importantly, we use an instrumental variables approach to establish causality. Our methodology exploits a major policy change in the crop insurance system – the 1994 Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act – which imposed crop insurance requirements on farmers. We find that a 1% increase in insured crop acreage leads to a 0.223% increase in irrigation withdrawals, with most coming from groundwater aquifers. We identify farmers growing more groundwater-fed cotton as an important mechanism contributing to increased withdrawals. A 1% increase in insured crop acreage leads to a 0.624% increase in cotton acreage, or 95,602 acres. These results demonstrate that crop insurance causally leads to more irrigation withdrawals. More broadly, this work underscores the importance of determining causality in the water-food nexus as we endeavor to achieve global food security and water resources sustainability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology