Whose Water Will Feed World’s Population Growth?

As the Earth’s population grows, determining how to feed the increased masses becomes more of a perplexing question each year.

The number of people increased by more than 12% in the last 10 years from 6.71 billion to 7.55 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Their projection is for 11.1 billion by the year 2100.

The population growth will place tremendous burdens on global natural resources, especially in the production of food.


What will be the key natural resource in focus? Water is essential to produce food. Residents and agricultural producers in the Great Plains know the importance of water. They depend on the Ogallala Aquifer, and have experienced the fears of its longevity.

More than 90% of the water pumped is used to irrigate crops and about $20 billion a year of food and fiber products depend on the aquifer.


A recent panel discussion that included executives of Ceres Partners and Rick Rule of Sprott U.S. Holdings Inc. touched on the challenges that face agriculture and world growth.

Rule noted that living standard improvements among the lower economic classes tend to place the largest strain on physical resources. A 30-year agricultural investor, Rule said the demographic thesis is powerful.

“One inescapable trend in history is that people beget people,” he said. “In other words, populations [grow] … What we’ve seen over thousands of years is the ascent of man.”


People want better food for their families as they gain more wealth. “That usually includes adding more protein in the diet.” said Perry Vieth, president of Ceres Partners. “China consumes over 50% of the world’s pork population.”

Most of the projected population growth is expected to come from the world’s less developed regions. That points to a potential opportunity in agricultural investments. Vieth said.

A big question that emerged from the panel discussion: Who will feed this emerging middle class?


The crucial issue of abundant water emerges. Vieth makes a strong argument for U.S. farmers, particularly those situated in water-rich regions. Better food requires larger grain stocks. According to Vieth, one pound of pork requires roughly five pounds of grain to produce. For beef, the ratio is one-to-seven.

But can farmers grow these grains closer to their target markets — China for example? Apparently, it’s not that simple; it takes water to make that grain. Growing corn requires approximately one inch of rain per week, Vieth said. Over a 12-week growing season, that amounts to 12 inches of rain.

“When we export grain, we are exporting water … We’re sending 12 inches of rain … just in a different form, corn.”

If water is the fuel that feeds the global population boom, more complex questions rise. How do you utilize water sources such as the Ogallala Aquifer? How do we promote policies on a national and global level to conserve and improve water quality?


Boxed beef cutout values firm to higher on light to moderate demand and moderate offerings.. Choice was up 78 cents at $198.22 per cwt and select was $190.05, up 60 cents. The choice/select spread was $8.17 and 129 loads of fabricated were sold into the market.

Cash trading in Nebraska was limited on light demand as of 2 p.m. Friday. A few dressed trades were steady to $175, compared to Thursday’s last reported trade. But there was not enough activity for a full market trend. Live trades were $111.50.

Friday trading in the Southern Plains, Colorado and Western Cornbelt was inactive on light demand, with no trend established. The last reported market in these regions was on Thursday. Southern Plains live trades were at $111.00 and Colorado live cash trades were at $111.50. Western Cornbelt live trades were from $110.00-$111.00, with a few up to $112.00, and dressed trades were at $175.00.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ending Thursday was $155.23, down 9 cents. The October feeder contract at the CME settled Friday at $154.050.