Farmers, Ranchers Changing Practices to Conserve Water

6/28/2013 8:38:43 AM

Nebraska farmers and ranchers are rapidly changing and adopting new practices to better manage and conserve water. Significant investments in new technology, changes in tillage practices and management strategies are taking place across Nebraska’s countryside. Getting the most out of every drop of water is critical to helping farmers and ranchers manage their operations while working to ensure they are preserving the state’s water resources for the next generation of water users.

Here are a few of the ways they’re conserving water:

Gravity Flow Irrigation to Center Pivot Irrigation

Many farmers are converting from gravity flow irrigation – where water is released into the crop rows through gated pipe – to center pivot irrigation where the application of water can be better timed to the crop’s needs and reduce the amount of water pumped.
How it saves water:
The center pivots are often low pressure systems, equipped with efficient sprinkler packages that can decrease the amount of water pumped. Some center pivots have been equipped with variable application rate technology, which when combined with other monitoring devices allows farmers to adjust application rates, applying more water in drier parts of the field and less in more moist areas.

Subsurface Drip Irrigation

Some farmers have invested in subsurface irrigation systems; new technology where plastic irrigation tape is buried underground in the field.
How it saves water:
The tape is placed underground close to a crop’s root zone. When water is released closer to the zone it creates greater efficiency in getting water to the crop and helps reduce water that could be lost to evaporation.

Data Gathering and Analysis

Farmers today use devices which measure a crop’s water use, a crop’s water needs and soil moisture content. Real time monitoring provides farmers with data and information they can use to make timely irrigation decisions. These devices allow for the accurate measurement of crop water use and soil moisture conditions.
How it saves water:
Knowing this information can help farmers meet the crop’s water needs and better time the application of water to avoid waste. Farmers participating in research projects on the effectiveness of these tools have reported reduced water pumping of anywhere from one-half to three inches of water.

Seed Technology

New technologies in seed varieties, developed through research at land-grant universities like the University of Nebraska and private companies, have led to more drought tolerant seeds reducing the yield drag during dry times and producing more yield with the same amount of water.
How it saves water:
Seeds that use water more efficiently and handle dry conditions better allow farmers to apply less water to their crops without suffering significant yield losses. These seed technologies are critical to the long-term ability of farmers and ranchers to raise crops when dealing with drought or limited water situations.

Changing Tillage and Crop Practices

Other means to save water fall under the variety of management decisions made by farmers and ranchers. Tillage practices, cropping patterns and rotations, deficit irrigation and adjusting plant populations are all management decisions farmers employ to save water. For example, no-till or minimum till farming, which leaves crop residue on the ground conserving moisture, has become increasingly popular in Nebraska.
How it saves water:
Research has suggested that leaving residue on fields can reduce water losses through evaporation by three to five inches. In areas where irrigation is limited, farmers have adopted deficit irrigation practices. Under deficit irrigation farmers apply less irrigation water than would be required to meet crop needs in an amount that reduces crop yields, but maximizes water use efficiency.

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