Canadian farmers used 838 million m3 of water for agricultural irrigation in 2010, down 44% from 2007, Statistics Canada says; 52% of water used for field crops, 31% for hay, 17% for vegetables, fruits and pasture improvement

OTTAWA, Ontario , September 19, 2011 (press release) – More than 838 million cubic metres of water was used in 2010 for agricultural irrigation. Alberta (59%) and British Columbia (28%) accounted for the majority of this water use.

The amount of water used for irrigation varies annually, depending on precipitation in winter, and precipitation and temperature during the growing season. Between 2007 and 2010, the volume of water used for irrigation and the area of irrigated land both declined, in part because of increased precipitation.

In 2010, Canadian farmers irrigated about 528 600 hectares of land, down 27% from 721 900 hectares in 2007. At the same time, the volume of water used for irrigation fell by 44%.

Much of the decline in volume of water used in irrigation occurred in three provinces. The volume of water used fell 67% in Ontario, 65% in Saskatchewan and 55% in Alberta, while the irrigated area in these provinces fell by 48%, 54% and 17%, respectively.

Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario all experienced wetter growing seasons in 2010 than in 2007 and required less irrigation as a result in 2010.

Two-thirds of irrigated land in Alberta

Alberta farmers irrigated 356 500 hectares in 2010, about 67% of total irrigated land. In British Columbia, a distant second, farmers irrigated approximately 76 600 hectares, or 15% of the total. In the Atlantic region, farmers irrigated 1 880 hectares, less than 1% of the total.

In total, irrigation was used on 7,685 Canadian farms in 2010, down from 10,470 in 2007. About 40% of irrigated farms were in British Columbia, 30% in Alberta and 13% in Ontario.

Of all the drainage regions, the South Saskatchewan drainage region had the most irrigated land, 380 070 hectares, and the highest number of irrigated farms (2,435).

Field crops grown on majority of irrigated land

Field crops, such as barley and wheat, were grown on the majority of irrigated land in 2010, accounting for just under 328 900 hectares, or 62% of the total. About 16,000 hectares of fruit crops were irrigated.

Note to readers

The Agricultural Water Survey gathered information on irrigation water use, irrigation methods and practices and sources and quality of water used for agricultural purposes on Canadian farms over the 2010 growing season (April 1 to October 31, 2010). It was part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators initiative.

In terms of volume, 52% of all the water used for irrigation in 2010 was used on field crops. Another 31% of irrigation water was used to irrigate hay, while 17% was used for vegetables, fruit crops and improved pasture.

Farmers drew their water for irrigation from a variety of sources. Off-farm sources, such as irrigation districts, were the most common sources. In 2010, 3,705 farms obtained at least some of their irrigation water from these sources.

With respect to on-farm water, 3,260 farms obtained at least some of their water for irrigation from on-farm lakes and rivers, while 1,555 farms drew at least some of their water from underground wells.

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