Water Quantity and Quality in Agricultural Animal Production

Grand Challenge: To optimize and ensure responsible and sustainable use of water.

Water Quantity and QualityGlobal demand for water is expected to increase significantly by 2025 and will be complicated by the impact of climate variability and altered patterns of rainfall throughout the world. The water footprint of products is the volume of freshwater used to generate the product, including all steps from production to consumption. About 8% of the available global supply of water is used for agricultural animals for the production of meat, dairy, and poultry products for human consumption. About 1% of this water is used to nourish animals, process and deliver animal products to consumers. About 98% of the water footprint of animal products is the water needed to produce feed (cereal grains,co-products from the ethanol industry, crop residues, pastures, etc.). The water footprint of animals is influenced by their feed conversion efficiency. Animals that are more efficient in converting feed to meat, milk, or eggs have a smaller water footprint. Animal feeds produced from crops that are irrigated have a higher water footprint than do crops or pastures grown under rain-fed conditions. Understanding how animals utilize water in different management systems is necessary to standardize methods to quantify this utilization and improve the sustainability of meat, dairy, and poultry products to meet the growing global demand for animal protein.

Key Questions:

  1. What are the factors that affect the water requirements of animals?
  2. How can animal production systems be optimized to prevent microbiological contamination of water while providing effective manure handling, storage, and application to the environment?
  3. Can international, standardized methods of calculating the water footprint of livestock be developed and implemented throughout the world with the ability to account for differences in animal production and management?
  4. What animal production and processing systems, including the production of crops, are needed to minimize the water footprint of meat, diary, and poultry products?

Expected Outcomes:

  1. New knowledge of the quantity and quality of water to optimize production of meat, dairy, and poultry products.
  2. Use of livestock manure to promote soil health while maintaining water quality and human health.
  3. Standardized methods that integrate the effects of environment, animal genetics and physiology, management systems, and components in feed and water that lead to efficient use of water for meat, dairy, and poultry production throughout the world.
  4. Management practices that optimize the use of water in the sustainable production of meat, dairy, and poultry products.

Download the Grand Challenges Document

Read each section:


Animal Health

Agricultural Animals and Climate Change

Food Safety

Global Food Security

Animal Well-Being

Water Quantity and Quality in Agricultural Animal Production

Training the Future Workforce

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