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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid