Water, temperatures, and wind: Can they ever be normal vs. averages?

Farm Forum

In early June I attended the National Farm/Ranch Business Management Education Association conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although moisture conditions were favorable across Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah; the norm for that region is to always be on the lookout for ways to obtain more water for municipal and agricultural uses. Warren Peterson, VP of Farmland Reserve, Inc. addressed our group on the topic of “Ag Water: Protecting the future of our nation” He cited several factors attributing to concerns of long term water supply for the western U.S. 1) Nearly all of California is in extreme drought status. The southwest region of the country continues to show the largest population growth, but has the least available water. This is an inverse from history when civilizations grew near the areas of adequate water supplies. As a society, do we think water just comes from the faucet? One half of water use in cities is for landscaping. In the Southwest they live in rock and sand and want grass, here in the Midwest we landscape with rocks! All of the people migrating to the arid southwest regions naturally need water for immediate needs, but what about the water needed to produce crops upstream to feed this added population? This is a tremendous concern of the agricultural lands requiring irrigation for crops. 2) As with most issues involving short term politics over long term sustainability, only 2% of Americans are involved in agriculture and just .8% actually produces the crop. We as the minority have to tell our story and be our own advocates. Conservation policies, animal husbandry education, proper soil management, etc. are areas where we, as producers, often need to remind people that we live off of the land and must treat it in such a manner as to provide for future prosperity not only for our business but for civilization. Is that 100 gallons of water better used to wash their car, or to produce a crop to provide several meals a month from now?

It is often stated that water is the next oil. Too bad we couldn’t just pipe some water from NW Iowa, SW Minnesota, and SE South Dakota to the west? That looks good for the month of June 2014, and for Missouri River flooding from the summer of 2011. How much would have been available in the summers of 2012, 2002, 1988, 1976 to export? Here in the upper Midwest we take our supply for granted with all of the lakes and wells we have. In Utah and surrounding states, water rights are a large portion of the value of farmland. At the conclusion of the seminar, the statement of “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting” seemed appropriate. Upon returning home after a 15 hr. drive, I reduced the flow from my Artesian well, as most of my cows were out to their summer pastures. Several inches of rain have fallen since, and I am blessed to have avoided the most severe storms. You can reach me at will.walter@mitchelltech.edu or 605-770-0758.