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Across the Editor’s Desk: All about water

LOREN KRUSE 04/04/2012 @ 10:24am Editor-in-Chief Successful Farming

Short soil moisture in spring reminds farmers and the market how water determines success.

If you've farmed for a while, you've probably seen that a half inch of rain at just the right time can make a huge difference in crop yield. In seasons of short rainfall in certain areas in recent years, farmers often were pleasantly surprised when yields of today's power-packed hybrids exceeded their expectations. And more new hybrids bred specifically to perform well under drought stress conditions are becoming available to farmers.

With water the most critical resource in crop production, farmers are expanding acres under irrigation and using irrigation as a risk-management tool in parts of the country where rainfall isn't significantly limiting most years. Timely use of water when needed, however, protects profit margins and achieves the optimum performance required from the high cost of inputs.

I've defined success in farming as doing the best you can with what you've got. Some farmers in the Platte River Basin of Nebraska are dealing with both limited rainfall in many years and limitation on irrigation water. In “Every Drop Counts," read how farmers there are allowed to use around 10 to 12 inches per year or 60 inches total over five years.

To indeed make every drop count, some farmers are turning to technology such as soil sensors to monitor the exact moisture. “It's estimated that the use of moisture sensors alone has the potential to save a producer about 2 inches of water, primarily at the first and last waterings,” farmer Roric Paulman tells Therran Gaines. “That represents a savings of up to $16 per acre.”

Managing water helps South Dakota grow

Using new technology in irrigation isn't the only way to get the most from each drop of water. In “A Quiet Revolution," read how shifts to no-till and cover crops have spurred a crop revolution in South Dakota. “It is all about managing water,” Dwayne Beck, who manages the Dakota Lakes Research Farm of South Dakota State University, tells Crops Technology Editor Gil Gullickson.

Beck helped lead a movement to no-till and cover crops to conserve moisture and, thus, allow more intense crop rotations. The result was an expansion of more than 227 million acres of spring wheat, winter wheat, corn, and soybeans in 17 central and north-central South Dakota counties over the past 20 years. The additional revenue generated is estimated as more than $1.1 billion.

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