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Nebraska agricultural research has historically improved farm income, increased land values, reduced food costs, enhanced the Nebraska economy and contributed to the general good throughout the world. These contributions often resulted from improving the productivity of our land and water resources. Over the past 40 years, corn and soybean yields per acre of land and per acre-inch of water consumed have each increased by about 60 percent. In short, we have learned how to produce more with less!
These research induced improvements in productivity have contributed to making our land and water resources increasingly valuable. Nebraska irrigated land that sold for less than $500 per acre in 1970 now sells for over $4,000 per acre, which after adjusting for inflation of 430 percent, amounts to a near doubling in the real value of land that has access to irrigation water. This makes it very expensive to meet water policy objectives which require reduced irrigation in the Nebraska Platte and Republican Basins.
As Nebraska struggles to find affordable ways of reducing the use of increasingly valuable irrigation water, there has been a chorus of calls for expanded agricultural research to produce more with less. Is agricultural research an answer to the water policy challenge? If so, what types of research should we be encouraging?