DOE Highlight: Assessing the Expansion Potential of Irrigated Land

DOE Highlight: Assessing the Expansion Potential of Irrigated Land
Jul 01, 2018

New emulator enables more rigorous assessments of regional and global water, land, energy and economy interactions.


The Science

Today different regions must meet growing demand for land—most notably for food and bioenergy crops. Expansion of irrigation can dramatically boost yields but potential expansion is limited by varying regional availability of fresh water. The potential additional irrigable land depends on water availability within a region, and the ability to stretch resources further through expansion of storage capacity and improvements in conveyance and irrigation efficiency. This study develops irrigable land supply functions that emulate a complex global water resource model that includes estimates of water resource availability and the cost of adding storage capacity and improving water-use efficiency.


The Impact

The researchers’ new framework allows for more rigorous integrated assessments of regional and global impacts of water, land, energy and economy interactions. The emulator framework is available to other researchers, and can be customized to match regional configurations of various integrated assessment models.  



The researchers use data on the value of production on irrigated and rain-fed cropland at an approximately 10-square kilometer grid-cell level and for the 140 regions and eight crop sectors in Version 9 of the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) Data Base. For each crop category, they estimate and compare the dollar value of irrigated and rain-fed crop production using production quantities and prices. To represent the potential of irrigated land areas to expand, the researchers use irrigable land supply curves for 126 water regions globally, based on water availability and the costs of irrigation infrastructure from a detailed water resource model. These curves enable estimates of each region’s ability to adapt to changes in water resources and agriculture demand through improvement in irrigation efficiency and expansion of water storage capacity.


BER PM Contact

Bob Vallario


PI Contacts

Kirby Ledvina ( or Niven Winchester (

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change



The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under the grant DE-FG02-94ER61937 and other government, industry and foundation sponsors of the MIT Joint Program.


Publication: Reprint 2018-8

Ledvina, K., N. Winchester, K. Strzepek and J.M. Reilly (2018): New data for representing irrigated agriculture in economy-wide models. Journal of Global Economic Analysis, 3(1): 122-155, (doi: 10.21642/JGEA.030103AF)


Image: Young cotton is irrigated on the High Plains. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

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