man walking in crop field, facing away from camera
MEASURING MOISTURE: Irrigation management and water probes aid agronomic decision-making, so that only the amount of water that is needed is applied to crops.

Getting more crop per drop of water

Eye on Crops: Even small adjustments to land use practices will help with soil and water conservation.

By Mike Vande Logt

There are many ways farmers in Minnesota and other areas of the country are modernizing their approaches to traditional farming methods to promote a sustainable water supply. Protecting waterways and optimizing water use are critical to helping ensure that family farms continue for generations to come.

Farmers also need to make money. Fortunately, management practices such as timely and targeted irrigation and crop applications can result in using less water and fewer inputs, which can have both environmental and economic benefits.

Water is our most valuable natural resource as well as one of our most threatened. Consider that just 0.7% of the world’s water is available for crop cultivation. Our global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. Since we aren’t adding farmland or creating more usable water, we need to preserve the resources we have. Here are some ways farmers are working to achieve this.

Mike Vande Logt

Seed genetics and trait technologies
Traits that add herbicide tolerance and insect protection can save many pounds of crop protection products from being applied. WinField United's in-field trial data also helps farmers place the right seed in the right environment, and use in-season management practices that help seed reach its full genetic potential.

The company also tests to determine how a hybrid or variety responds to nitrogen applications or to being planted at various populations. By knowing these variables, farmers can potentially grow more with fewer seeds and fewer crop inputs that could migrate into waterways.

Nutrient management
Some of the biggest gains in sustainability and yield potential come from applying nutrients closer to the time crops use them. In-season satellite imagery, which measures plant health in terms of biomass, can indicate an area of the field where yield potential may be falling behind, or uncover a spot that’s ripe for a yield increase. From there, well-timed tissue sampling can indicate key nutrient levels, so farmers know exactly how much product needs to be applied as well as where and when it should be applied. This goes a long way toward reducing overfertilization and nitrate runoff while optimizing production.

Irrigation management
Using water probes in irrigated fields allows farmers to see the amount of water in their soil profiles, which helps them make better irrigation decisions. In the past, it’s been easy to overirrigate because we didn’t know what the moisture in soil looked like. Much like nutrient management, irrigation management and water probes aid agronomic decision-making, so that only the amount of water that’s needed is provided.

Land management
Minnesota farmers in particular are familiar with buffer strips. Planted between cropland and water bodies, they provide natural vegetation that acts as a filter for escaping nutrients and a stabilizing force for stream banks, thereby helping preserve water quality.

Using minimum- or no-till soil cultivation methods also helps manage nutrient runoff and protect soil integrity. Planting cover crops can help break up hard soil surfaces with vegetation that can add organic matter and ground cover while fixing nitrogen. This improves the water-holding capacity of the soil and helps discourage erosion.

Maybe you are already using these management practices or are considering doing so. Talk with your agronomist about what makes the most sense for your farm and management style. Even small adjustments can result in greater preservation of farmland for future generations.

Mike Vande Logt is executive vice president and chief operating officer of WinField United.


TAGS: Water
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