News / USA

Texas Farmers Want More Crop Per Drop

Drought, water scarcity have growers trying new irrigation methods

One of the driest Texas summers ever took a toll on the region's crops, costing farmers and ranchers more than $5 billion so far.
One of the driest Texas summers ever took a toll on the region's crops, costing farmers and ranchers more than $5 billion so far.

Multimedia

Audio

With water scarcity emerging as a major global issue in the 21st century, a drought in the southern U.S. state of Texas highlights the need for farmers to get more out of limited water supplies. Some are using new irrigation methods which give them more crop per drop.

The driest year and the hottest July and August on record have taken a toll on the region's crops, costing the state's farmers and ranchers more than $5 billion so far.

Near the town of Dumas, in the northern Texas High Plains, farmer Harold Grall says it's the worst he's seen in 33 years of farming.

"We need to take away something good from this year, since it's been such a difficult year," he says, "We are learning a lot."

The summer's extreme drought and heat highlight every shortcoming in the way farmers water their crops, says Texas A&M University irrigation expert Nich Kenny.

"You hate to see a person go through that, but if it affects the management regime and the strategies that people use for the better, this year may be a year that changes crop production in the Texas High Plains."

Running out of water

Those changes have to come, says Grall. While this year was extreme, "we know the direction we're heading," says Grall. "It's like, what part of 'We're running out of water' don't you understand?"

Maize is the most profitable crop to grow in this area. But farmers cannot grow maize in this semi-arid landscape without irrigation.

However, every drop of irrigation water comes from an underground reservoir that farmers, cities and industries are draining far faster than the water replenishes.

Some areas have a century or more before the wells run dry. But others have just a decade or two at current rates of use.

When the water dries up, so will the region's economy, says Steve Walthour, head of the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District, the region's water authority.

"Our bread and butter is irrigated agriculture. And we have to look at how do we keep it going for as long as we can."

High-tech maize field

A walk through one of Harold Grall's maize fields provides a look at the latest in maximizing crop per drop.

Grall is trying out a new high-tech system that sends data from underground soil probes to his computer. It tells him when his plants need water, and when he can turn off the taps.

"We have real-time access to what's going on in the soil," he says.

This system is not cheap. Each underground probe costs $2,500. But since this only is his second year with the system, he has a low-tech backup: wires poking out of the soil connect to blocks of gypsum buried underground. Hooking up an electrical meter will give an idea of how dry the soil is.

Rather than tilling the leaves and stalks from last year's crop into the soil, Grall leaves them on the field. The cover helps cool the soil, and it reduces evaporation and runoff.

"That residue is just like a big sponge," he says. "It's just kind-of soaking up all the water," and holding on to it for the plants to use.

New maize varieties

The plants themselves need less water. This year, Grall is trying out new, drought-tolerant maize varieties from two seed companies. In this year's exceptional drought and heat, they clearly out-performed older varieties.

Grall uses low-hanging irrigation hoses that deliver water right to the base of the plant. Compared to the old, wasteful method of flooding the crop rows, it's a big improvement.

The North Plains Groundwater Conservation District helped Grall set up some of the new technologies to demonstrate to the region's farmers that they can produce a profitable maize crop on less water.

They are still sorting through all the data to determine how it all worked and what needs to be improved.

But, Grall says, "We need all the tools available to us at this point so we can help preserve our water," because water is the lifeblood of a region where farming is not just a business but also a way of life.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid