Tuesday, October 21, 2014
   
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Water is economic lifeblood

Presenters: Nebraskans stakeholders in balancing needs

One Nebraska farmer, who’s experimented with water-saving strategies, has measurable results.

Roric Paulman of rural Sutherland shared those results with Dawson Public Power District board of directors, the media and others during a Water Management and Our Economy meeting Friday at DPPD headquarters south of Lexington.

In addition, Robert “Bob” Heinz, DPPD’s general manager, talked about an economic water study commissioned by the rural power company, and Nebraska Water Balance Alliance spokesperson and educator Lorre McKeone told of water management strategies used, and encouraged, by her organization.

In 1995, Paulman—vice president of the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance—pointed out that water was not in his top five list of expenses.

Now it is, at $8 to $9 per acre-inch.

The producer said he’s spent the last seven years coming up with innovative ways to increase production and reduce water consumption.

Working with agronomists and natural resources district and others, and companies like John Deere and Monsanto, he came up with what he calls producer-driven outcomes.

Paulman measures water use and consumption on irrigated and dryland fields and uses tools to help him manage water more efficiently.

Strip tillage, which leaves residue on the fields, acts like a sponge to reduce evaporation, he said.

Weather stations collect temperature, humidity and other data and rain gauges monitor moisture.

Probes detect soil moisture and geographic information system-generated field maps help Paulman determine the potential of each acre.

By looking at different soil types and fertility, he can fine-tune hybrids, fertilizer and water application and more.

“A lot of hybrids don’t like it real wet and saturation takes the air out of soil,” Paulman said, noting that over watering can cause poor root structure while under watering may spell potential yield loss and poor crop quality.

A prescription for the various types of soil is developed and fed, via a jump drive, into tractors.

Speed control of pivots means Paulman can apply less water, and chemicals, to marginal land and other areas that don’t need it.

Historically, he said farmers have tried to apply water uniformly to entire fields, regardless of soil type, slope and elevation.

With speed control on pivots, application rates can be varied in two-degree slices to better fit variations.

Paulman said University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have concluded that, after several years and over 1 million acres enrolled, savings of $4,500 per pivot and a 5.5-bushel increase in yield are possible.

Researchers have also found that decreasing water application by 40% didn’t significantly affect yields, he said.

Besides irrigation, he added there are many water demands, such as increased river flow for endangered species, that all relate to each other.

The bottom line, Paulman said, is finding out what works best and “walking across the road and handing it to my neighbor.”

“An Economic Analysis of Water Balance,” by Dr. Eric Thompson of the Nebraska Bureau of Business Research shows the economic cost of reducing irrigated acres by turning them into dryland production.

An analysis of Buffalo, Dawson and Lincoln counties reveals that retiring 3,500 acres translates into a $6.8 million drop in property values and $36.1 million for 18,600 acres.

Estimated loss in economic activity (business receipts), both on and off the farm, is $1.7 million per year under the 3,500-acre scenario.

For the retirement of 18,600 acres, the loss jumps to $9.4 million.

Heinz said DPPD commissioned the study because wells were closed down in the district’s service area and because headquarters sits on land on which water rights were sold to the Central Platte Natural Resources District.

Policies that “give the biggest bang for your buck” for both sustainability of water and needs are important considerations, Heinz said.

Power districts are interested in water management since a significant portion of their revenue is generated by agricultural producers who use electrical power to irrigate.

McKeone shared a talk she presented at the Monsanto Water Utilization Learning Center on March 5. A story about her talk can be viewed at www.gothenburgtimes.com.

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