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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs