Summer 2012 taught Midwestern producers what growers in the Southwest already knew so well: Drought happens. And even in areas where the underground water supply isn’t declining as it is in the Texas Panhandle, farmers are learning to apply t
he right amount to specific areas of the fields-no more, no less.
“This year, we’re short of rain, so we’re watering almost continuously,” Tim Schmeeckle told us in early August. “Our normal annual rainfall is 24 to 25 inches, so we normally supplement with 12 to 13 inches of irrigation water. This year, we’ll be applying 24 to 25 inches.”
But there is a limit to irrigation, a diminishing return to putting water onto the soil. “Why put on more than the soil can hold?” asks Schmeeckle, who grows corn and soybeans under center-pivots near Gothenburg, Neb. “Our irrigation isn’t controlled here, and we’re not limited on how many acre-inches we can pump, but it’s coming. I want to be ready for that and be able to grow the same amount or more corn with less water.”