Water: Making every drop count

New tools are allowing farmers to use water more efficiently, ensuring clean water for future generations.

New tools are allowing farmers to use water more efficiently, ensuring clean water for future generations.

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska’s diverse landscape progresses from lush, fertile crop ground in the east to the temperate Sandhills in the west. This change in scenery is attributed in large part to differences in the amount of rainfall and the water available to grow a variety of crops. Thanks to innovative agricultural practices, Nebraska corn and soybean farmers are making every drop of water count.

Since rainfall varies so much across the state, many farmers depend on irrigation during the summer months to help supplement moisture deficiencies. To help put the variation into perspective, the amount of rainfall changes more from Omaha to Scottsbluff than it does from Washington D.C. to Omaha.

Water for Food
Three quarters of the planet is covered by water; but less than one percent of the water on earth is available for human use. Water is critically important to farmers and ranchers. In fact, 70 percent of the water available to humans worldwide is used to produce food. Nebraska farmers irrigate nearly 8.5 million acres, more than any other state in the country. And new tools are allowing farmers to use water more efficiently, ensuring clean water for future generations.

“We know that many consumers have questions about the water it takes to grow crops like corn and soybeans,” said Drew Guiney, consumer relations specialist for the Nebraska Soybean Board. “We want people to know that farmers need water, but they’re also dedicated to continuing to improve their practices to ensure a clean, plentiful supply for generations to come.”

Smart Water
The purpose of irrigation is to supplement rainfall as needed. Many farmers are now adopting technologies that allow them to use less water. By pulling local weather data and installing water sensors in their fields, farmers can know not only when it’s time to irrigate, but also exactly how much water should be applied. Sustainable technologies like these are helping farmers produce more grain while using fewer resources and helping to keep the water supply clean and plentiful for you and your family.

Some of these technologies include the SoyWater and CornWater Irrigation Management Tools released by University of Nebraska-Lincoln. These programs are online, real-time decision support tools that help farmers determine when to irrigate fields in Nebraska. Both programs were developed with the help of the Nebraska Soybean Board and the Nebraska Corn Board.

To make irrigation recommendations, these tools evaluate several situations in the real-time, such as available soil water at different soil depths and possible water stress based on up-to-date weather data. Other factors include user-input crop information (including date of planting, hybrid maturity, plant population), and basic soil properties (including soil texture, soil water status at planting time, soil rooting depth, and soil surface residue coverage rate).

“Just as farmers adopted the use of pivots and sub-surface drip versus flood irrigation to increase efficiencies, they are now taking the next steps in conservation tillage, water mark sensors, and online decision support tools to continue in their quest to maximize the amount of yield per drop”, stated Kelly Brunkhorst, executive director for the Nebraska Corn Board. “Farmers see this adoption of technology as just a step in their sustainability of producing corn and soybeans for food, feed, fuel and fiber.”
The Nebraska Corn Board is a self-help program, funded and managed by Nebraska corn farmers. Producers invest in the program at a rate of 1/2 of a cent per bushel of corn sold. Nebraska corn checkoff funds are invested in programs of market development, research, promotion and education.
The nine-member Nebraska Soybean Board collects and disburses the Nebraska share of funds generated by the one half of one percent times the net sales price per bushel of soybeans sold. Nebraska soybean checkoff funds are invested in research, education, domestic and foreign markets, including new uses for soybeans and soybean products.

Editor’s Note: Picture available (top of page).

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