By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Nebraska farmers can't count on the weather or the political climate. But they can count on irrigation to produce a good crop, even during drought.
"And yet at the same time, we've got to learn to do more with less because there just isn't enough water to continue to irrigate at the rate we traditionally have," Hastings area farmer Bob Johnson said.
It's a challenge for growers like Johnson. Like many farmers, he has turned to technology, in the form of moisture sensors.
"So I'll irrigate according to need," he explained.
Despite the drought, some fields may not be as bad as farmers think. But they won't know if they don't do their homework.
Derrel Martin is a professor of irrigation systems at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He was among several presenters at a Crop Production Clinic on Tuesday in Hastings.
He said farmers need to check how much moisture they have in their soil.
He said, "Some growers irrigated a lot last year, so profile might be in good shape, other growers may have been short on water, so may be drier and may need to start earlier next year."
It may be tempting to run irrigation pivots more this year because of the drought. But the soil may be better than farmers realize.
Saving a couple of passes on the pivot will save water and also thousands of dollars for the farmer.
Where irrigation didn't help during the drought, crop insurance did.
UNL Extension Educator Monte Vanderveer said, "It really saved Nebraska farmers last year. It looks like crop insurance payouts are going to be at least a billion dollars."
But farmers looking for certainty in uncertain times can't rely on Congress, where they extended the old farm bill instead of passing the new one.
And with more budget talks looming, Congress may scale back subsidies that have covered 60 percent of the crop insurance cost for Nebraska farmers.
Vanderveer said, "If we knock that back a bit then crop insurance becomes a little more expensive, still useful, but not going to have quite the benefit I think producers looked at in the past."
As he's done all his life in good times and bad, Bob Johnson turns to the University of Nebraska to set him straight.
He said it's the "best source of unbiased, reliable information."
More Crop Production Clinics are scheduled around the state, including North Platte, York, and Kearney. For more, visit http://cpc.unl.edu.