Technology can help improve water stewardship.
“Saving water and keeping it in the aquifer is important to all of us—not only because it is a natural resource but also because using it effectively makes good economic sense,” said Roric Paulman, ag producer and vice president of the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance.
Paulman’s fields near Sutherland have become a testing site for several different types to technologies that are designed to optimize water usage.
GPS mapping, water sensors, transpiration meters and state-of-the-art pivot systems are being used together for better management.
On Paulman Farms, the computers used to gather and analyze data are every bit as important as the tractors and equipment that used to plant and harvest.
“In 2010, I ran a comparison with two fields,” Paulman explains. “On one, we used sensors to detect the amount of moisture in the soil and we used that data to determine when we irrigated and how much water to apply.
“On the other field, we used knowledge and skill to make decisions about irrigation. The water sensors helped us validate our decisions so we could do a better job of keeping water on our ground.”
Increasing the precision of water application also helps Paulman use less fertilizer and herbicide. This maintains a high standard of water quality.
“Our ability to implement and assess different strategies are the keys to long term sustainability,” Paulman says. The overall goal is good stewardship and economic viability.
Equipment and seed vendors, Ag lenders, natural resource districts, the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance and the University of Nebraska are watching the project closely because of the potential to change irrigation practices. Data from the project will be gathered, analyzed and shared with all of the stakeholders in the project.
“The Nebraska Water Balance Alliance is pleased to be a partner with Paulman Farms to help promote new technologies which allow producers to engage in more efficient farming practices,” explains Robert Heinz, President of the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance.
Although the Paulman Farms project is extensive and highly detailed, other farmers may choose to implement some of the same technology on their farms.
“An evapo-transpiration or ET meter is inexpensive and accumulating that and rain data is a great way to start. Integrating one of the capacitance moisture probes into the daily regimen will change how you apply water,” suggests Paulman.
The Nebraska Water Balance Alliance is kicking off a fundraising campaign to develop a detailed study on the advanced farming practices like those used at Paulman Farms. The study, which will be produced with the cooperation of the University of Nebraska, will document producer driven outcomes on crop yields and water application practices.
“We believe that as farming practices change, so must the recognition of the impacts on water policy in Nebraska,” says Heinz. He refers the public to nebraskawaterbalance.com for more information.