Nebraska agriculture would look vastly different and would not be the economic power it is absent irrigation. Sometimes, though, it’s good to be reminded of the breadth of irrigation in the state relative to the rest of the nation.

The map below, created by the USDA Economic Research Service, shows the concentration of irrigated acres in counties across the country. Counties with more than 10 percent of harvested cropland irrigated are colored one of four colors depending on the concentration of irrigated acres in the county. Counties colored red indicate ones where irrigated acres comprise more than 75 percent of the harvested cropland.

Nebraska has several counties colored red, but what is striking about Nebraska is not the number of counties colored red, but the breadth of irrigated acres across the state compared to other states. Most Nebraska counties have at least 25 percent of their harvested acres under irrigation. Only a few counties in southeastern Nebraska and a few in the sandhills do not meet the 10 percent threshold to be colored on the map. No other state comes close to having the broad distribution of irrigated acres like Nebraska.

Nebraska leads the nation in the number of irrigated acres, exceeding eight million. Nebraska’s irrigated land base contributes to greater production and has helped the state grow sizeable animal feeding, ethanol, seed corn, irrigation equipment, and popcorn industries. Without irrigation, the economic footprint of these and other agricultural industries would not be near as large.  

Figure 1. Concentration of Irrigated Acres, 1998-2013

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Source: USDA ERS calculations based on data from USDA, NASS Census of Agriculture