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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.