The largest irrigated* crop in the United States isn’t corn or soy or marijuana or cotton or even GOP presidential candidates. It’s grass.
new study, researchers estimate that there are more than 63,000 square miles of lawn in the U.S., an area about the size of Texas and three times larger than the land occupied by any irrigated crop in the United States. And while grass can act as a carbon sink by pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, its positive effects are cancelled out by the amount of water required to keep lawns alive.
However, maintaining a well-manicured lawn uses up to 900 liters of water per person per day and reduces sequestration effectiveness by up to 35 percent by adding emissions from fertilization and the operation of mowing equipment.
“If the entire turf surface was well watered following commonly recommended schedules there would…be an enormous pressure on the U.S. water resources, especially when considering that drinking water is usually sprinkled,” the researchers found. “At the time of this writing, in most regions outdoor water use already reaches 50-75 percent of the total residential use.”
And yet, America still loves its manicured greenery. Last week, we wrote about people getting arrested for not mowing. Shortly before that, we wrote about an Ohio couple that was threatened with a forcible mowing if they didn’t cut their grass. And nearly every day, I see people in my own drought-stricken neighborhood watering their grass despite the fact that it’s your civic duty to let your lawn go bleached blonde for the summer. It’s all gross! And unfortunately, according to Fusion, our love of lawns isn’t ending anytime soon:
The NASA researchers did not address the drought in their paper, but did find that it will likely be some time before we see a significant decrease in lawn acreage.
“Because of demographic growth and because more and more people are moving towards the warmer regions of the country the potential exists for the amount of water used for turf grasses to increase,” they write.
And Euromonitor’s Ryan Tuttle has projected U.S. lawnmower growth is on track to recapture its pre-recession levels thanks to the housing recovery and what he said was a “continued emphasis on a well-manicured yard.”
Ah, America: the greatest nation on Earth! Unless you’re actually a fan of Earth, that is — in which case, we’ve got some work to do.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article said that lawns are now the largest crop in the U.S. according to a new study. Not true. They are the largest irrigated crop in the U.S. according to an old study. Oh, and Texas is substantially larger than 63,000 square miles. Grist regrets the errors and has sentenced the author to mowing all of the lawns in the U.S.