Water footprint of rangeland beef production in New Mexico

TitleWater footprint of rangeland beef production in New Mexico
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsSawalhah MN, Geli HME, Holechek JL, Cibils AF, Spiegal S., Gifford C
Date Published7/15/2021
ARIS Log Number386496
Keywordsblue water; green water; drought; forage crops; climate change; New Mexico

New Mexico (NM) has been identified as the state in the US that will be most adversely impacted by climate change and associated water stress. Roughly 92% of NM is rangeland, most of which is grazed by beef cattle. We calculated the blue (surface and ground) and green (precipitation) water footprints (WF) of NM beef cattle industry (cow-calf, backgrounding, and feedlot). This analysis indicated that the weighted average WF of NM beef cattle was 28,203 L/kg meat. The majority of the WF was accounted for green water (82%; 23,063 L/kg meat) used by rangeland forages. Blue water accounted for only 18% (5140 L/kg meat) of the total beef WF estimate. The relative contribution of green vs. blue water varied significantly among the different phases of beef production. In cow-calf, green water accounted for 99.5% of the WF whereas blue water, accounted for 100% of beef WF during backgrounding and feedlot. Based on our estimate, NM cow-calf operations is about a third or a quarter of the blue water (m3/year) used to produce corn or wheat, and only 5% or less of the water used to produce cotton or hay. In NM, irrigation accounts for about 84% of freshwater use followed by public/domestic use of 10%. Mining, thermo-electric, livestock production, aquaculture, and industrial uses collectively account for the other 6%.