Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

No till notes: Water


Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over! Whoever coined this well-known phrase sure hit the nail on the head. Water, and the lack of it, has turned to the courts for answers on who has the rights to how much of this valuable resource. There are lawsuits in every watershed it seems now, and states are suing states over water use and availability. Irrigation wells have been shut off in some areas in an attempt to come into compliance with decisions handed down through the legal system. All sorts of schemes have been bantered about in an attempt to solve these complex water issues.

Agriculture is the number one user of water in our region. Agriculture uses roughly 93% of the water in our state. There is no doubt that agriculture is going to shoulder the burden when it comes to solving the lack of water problems we are faced with. Water conservation practices in agriculture will become the focus of each operation. Our livelihood now and into the future will depend on how quickly and willingly we adopt water conservation practices.

There are numerous research projects around the region looking a different ways to improve our water management practices. Research is conducted looking at crop genetic modification to improve a plants drought tolerance. Improvements in water distribution through center pivots and pumping plants is being looked at. Alternative crop rotations that require less water will become part of the water solution. Monitoring soil moisture with sensors that determine plant available water in the soil is a part of the answer.

I feel the most significant management practice to adopt is leaving all the previous crops residue on the soil surface and planting the next crop with minimal soil disturbance in a no till farming system. Extensive research has been and is currently being conducted to determine the value of residue in relation to soil moisture. Several inches of soil moisture can be saved by not tilling the soil and leaving the residue on the soil surface. This practice will also improve the water infiltration and storage capacity of the moisture Mother Nature provides during the growing season.

As more producers adopt no till cropping systems, more research will be conducted to improve this type of crop production practice. I think we will also see additional research into the changes in the characteristics of the soil as no till farming becomes the predominant farming system in agriculture.

As producers adopt more no till farming practices, begin monitoring their soil moisture, plant crops that require less water, and use improved water distribution irrigation equipment, we will see a significant decline in the amount of water needed to produce profitable crops. Until we reach this point of improved water conservation practices more water litigation and legislation can be expected. There is a sense of urgency that agriculture adopts these water conserving management practices before the water issues are settled through legislation and litigation. If those of us involved in agriculture could cut our water use by a third to one half, many of the water issues we are faced with would fade away or become less burdensome


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