Kansas Says Farmers Can Save Money While Saving Water

Jan 17, 2018

Credit Ben Kuebrich

Kansas water conservation officials are working to get farmers to voluntarily adopt water-saving technologies and extend the life of the crucial Ogallala Aquifer.

The first-ever water technology expo organized by the Kansas Water Office, which was held in Garden City Thursday, brought together farmers, vendors, and researchers.

Dr. Jonathon Aguilar, of Kansas State University, spoke to farmers about how they can use less water while improving their bottom lines. Aguilar works in the department of biological and agricultural engineering, where he’s investigating mobile drip irrigation – a new way of delivering water to crops using a center pivot, while also minimizing evaporation.

Aguilar says farmers can also conserve water by using new technology to learn when their crops need more water using three types of systems: weather, soil, and plant-based systems.

He says farmers can use K-State’s weather-based irrigation scheduling system, KanSched, which uses crop and weather data to predict when farmers need to irrigate their crops and when the can hold off. KanSched is available for free, but Aguilar says, ideally, farmers should also use one of the other systems – soil sensors, which measure moisture levels underground, or plant-based sensors, which provide information about how stressed, hot, or dehydrated the plants are – so they can feel confident about the results.

Aguilar says, by knowing when their crops need water, farmers not only save water and fertilizer, they gain peace of mind.

“They could sleep well in the night, knowing that they made a good decision during that time,” he said.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, said he wanted to get farmers to the expo because he thinks it will be hearing first-hand stories from fellow farmers about their experiences with the new technology that will be the most convincing.

“I suspect there will be other conversations not only with the vendors but other irrigators … The most effective in actually influencing someone try to try to use this technology is actually peer-to-peer conservations,” Streeter said.

Streeter says trials conducted on Water Technology Farms show that the technology works and helps farmers with their bottom lines, by reducing input costs like water and fertilizer, which can be washed away through over-irrigation. Now, he says, the office is working on getting the word out, and hoping more farmers voluntarily adopt the technology.

Kansas has had success getting farmers to use less water in local management areas (LEMAs), where farmers who don’t cut down can be penalized, and in those places, the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer has slowed.