Master irrigators share learning to conserve at #OgallalaAquifer Summit — The Ag Journal

From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

One farmer claimed to have learned more in one day of master irrigator training than he had in five years of farming on his own.

For another, the light bulb came on when he realized by making one simple change he could save $10,000 a year.

Colorado Master Irrigator program manager Brandi Baquera was thrilled to share those glowing endorsements during a panel presentation at the virtual Ogallala Aquifer Summit in late March. She always believed the program’s “one-stop shop” format was exactly what the region’s irrigated farmers needed.

The first class of the master irrigator program, which was held a little over a year ago, offered 32 hours of instruction to 25 producers who collectively farm 20,000 acres across multiple counties in the Republican River Basin…

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

While program participation is currently limited to the Republican Basin, Baquera is eager to see the concept spread and get adopted by other advisory teams and coordinators across the state…

How to conserve water, without putting farmers out of business or harming the local economy, has always made it difficult to translate talk into action.

“Conservation has been a conversation out here for so long,” Baquera said. “It’s not for lack of trying, it’s just finding the right formula. It’s about connecting all the dots.”

Farmers taking the training don’t just sit through a class on theory; they learn about water use efficiency practices and technologies immediately applicable to their farms.

The curriculum is developed by an advisory committee consisting of local experts, with emphasis on the unique features of the basin. Participants are awarded a $2,000 stipend, along with a package of additional incentives that include free energy audits, discounts from local businesses and service providers, and prioritization for cost-share grants through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Most importantly, it emphasizes peer-to-peer interaction, discussion and learning…

The point of the program is that using less groundwater doesn’t necessarily mean lower yields or lower profits, it’s more a matter of understanding the tools available and knowing how to use them, she said.

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

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