Irrigation practices such as prewatering in February when there’s less evaporation help Texas farmer Justin Crownover conserve water.
Texas farmers share lessons learned from the drought
Drought is all too common in the Texas Panhandle. In 2011, mere inches of rain, triple-digit temperatures and 40 mph winds forced farmers to abandon some fields to invest more time, energy and resources in crops they thought had a fighting chance to survive.
The Ogallala Aquifer that supplies much-needed water to the Texas Panhandle is a vast yet shallow water table. Despite the frenzy for water, farmers make stewardship a top priority.
The resilience of Texas farmers and their ability to adapt offers hope for Midwest producers who are still trying to pick up the pieces after the region’s worst drought in decades.
Every drop counts. Shaking up his crop rotation is one way Sunray, Texas, farmer Justin Crownover is coping with drought. For 2012, he cut 10% of his corn acres and planted more cotton. His sorghum seed acres were up too. When moisture isn’t there, corn simply doesn’t pencil out.
"Either we lose the ability to use the water or we spend
the money to conserve it"
Fellow farmer Steve Olson planted more sunflowers in lieu of corn because they have a more vigorous root system. Strip-till has also proved to be beneficial by allowing the root system to take off and grow deep. "We’re trying to watch what’s going on under the ground," he says.
To maximize yield potential from every drop of water—whether it’s from rainfall or irrigation—farmers such as Crownover are incorporating new technology and paying extra attention to irrigation scheduling.
"We’re changing our nozzles to hopefully be more efficient and minimize misting," Crownover says. "We’re handling residue differently to be more conservative with water. When we pre-water, we try to do it in February when there’s less evaporation."
Crownover is working with Ag H2o Solutions to convert sprinklers on his irrigation pivots to a bubbling system. While incorporating new technology costs money, Crownover says the changes are imperative for farming to continue in his area.
"We can’t replace the water," he says. "It’s going to be expensive one way or another. Either we lose the ability to use the water because of the lack of it, or we spend the money to help conserve it and get as many bushels out of a gallon of water that we can."
The importance of conservation is magnified as water restrictions ramp up. The Texas Alliance for Water Conservation was formed to help preserve water for future generations. "The Alliance doesn’t tell producers what to do, it provides tools to help farmers schedule their irrigation," says chairman Rick Kellison.
"The goal of the alliance is pretty short and sweet," he adds. "We want to find ways to use less water out of aquifer and maintain profitability, if not increase profitability, for farmers. It’s easy to say, hard to do."
It is indeed a tall order, but Kellison and other industry professionals know something has to be done to keep farming viable for the area.
As the intensity of drought ebbs and flows with the years, resilience remains a key to survival. Veteran drought farmers have learned that incorporating business and production changes on the heels of a drought ensure that the family’s farming legacy can continue for years to come.
To watch video interviews with Texas producers who are switching up their
production and management practices in the face of drought, visit
- November 2012