Water use in agriculture



Farming accounts for around 70% of water used in the world today and also contributes to water pollution from excess nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants. But the competition for water is increasing and the costs of water pollution can be high.

Increased pressure from urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change will provide agriculture with more competition for water resources and climate change could affect water supply and agriculture through changes in the seasonal timing of rainfall and snow pack melt, as well as higher incidence and severity of floods and droughts.

Sustainable management of water in agriculture is critical to increase agricultural production, ensure water can be shared with other users and maintain the environmental and social benefits of water systems. Governments need to improve the economic efficiency and environmental effectiveness of policies that seek to improve water resource use efficiency and reduce water pollution from agricultural systems.

To assist policy makers in addressing this challenge, OECD indicators and analysis contribute to formulating policy responses that will move agriculture towards the sustainable management of water.



Latest reports

Drying Wells, Rising Stakes Towards Sustainable Agricultural Groundwater Use

Groundwater has provided great benefits to agriculture irrigation in semi-arid OECD countries, but its intensive use beyond recharge in certain regions has depleted resources and generated significant negative environmental externalities. The report provides a characterisation of the diversity of groundwater systems, reviews policies in OECD countries, and proposes a package of recommendations to ensure that groundwater can sustain its services to agriculture and contribute to climate change adaptation.


‌Climate Change, Water and Agriculture: Towards Resilient Systems

This report reviews the main linkages between climate change, water and agriculture as a means to identifying and discussing adaptation strategies for better use and conservation of water resources. It aims to provide guidance to decision makers on choosing an appropriate mix of policies and market approaches to address the interaction between agriculture and water systems under climate change.

» Access the report now


‌Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge

This book examines linking policies, farm management and water quality. It looks at recent trends and prospects for water pollution from agriculture and the implications of climate change. It assesses the costs and benefits of agriculture's impact on water systems, and contains a number of case studies on agriculture and water pollution at the regional (European Union, the Baltic Sea) and national (France, Britain and Australia) levels as well as in specific areas (Lake Taupo, New Zealand and Chesapeake Bay, United States).

» Access the report now

» See also OECD Compendium of Agri-environmental Indicators (2013)


Water Resources in Agriculture: Outlook and Policy Issues

World agriculture faces an enormous challenge over the next 40 years: to produce almost 50% more food up to 2030 and double production by 2050. This will probably have to be achieved with less water, mainly because of pressure from growing urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change.

» Read the full report


Indicators and data

Supporting the report Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries Since 1990, this database features statistics on the impact of agriculture on the quality and use of water in OECD member countries.

» Access the OECD.stat database on water-use and quality in OECD countries


Other publications

Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Agriculture
Agriculture is the major user of water in most countries. It also faces the enormous challenge of producing almost 50% more food by 2030 and doubling production by 2050. This book shows the trends and outlook for water use in agriculture, examines the policy experiences of OECD countries in managing their resources - and recommends what countries should be doing and why.

Managing Water Resources in the Agricultural Sector (chapter from Managing Water for All: An OECD Perspective on Pricing and Financing)
Water resources management in agriculture is complex, covering a diverse range of farming systems, climatic conditions, sources of water, property rights, institutional arrangements, and cultural and social contexts. This chapter looks at the challenges and options facing policy makers


Trends in Water Use and Quality Since 1990 (chapter from Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries Since 1990)
OECD agricultural water use rose by 2% over the period 1990-92 to 2001-03. Nearly half of OECD member countries record that nutrient and pesticide concentrations in surface water and groundwater monitoring sites in agricultural areas exceed national drinking water recommended limits - which brings significant treatment costs for some countries. This report analyses the impacts of agriculture in OECD member countries on water, air, soil, biodiversity and other environmental themes.


OECD Workshop on water information systems
International experts met for an OECD workshop in Zaragoza, Spain in 2010 to discuss how to develop water information systems to support more efficient and effective delivery of sustainable water resource management and policies. Consult the papers, presentations and outcomes of the workshop.


Related OECD work & contact

More related OECD data, analysis and publications:

For questions on OECD work on water use in agriculture, contact the Trade & Agriculture Directorate.


Related Documents