Irrigation helps crops this year, farmers worry about next

Visitors walked the ground of Husker Harvest Days near Grand Island, Neb., Tuesday. (Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)

I really got a taste for what the drought is like yesterday.

I was manning the Harvest Public Media booth at Husker Harvest Days near Grand Island, Neb. It was hot on the first day of the festival and each gust of wind raised another cloud of dust from the gravel streets of the makeshift expo village, giving me – literally – a taste of the dry weather.

Husker Harvest Days is touted as the world’s largest exhibition focused on irrigated farming. And in a drought year like this, irrigation provides a clear edge.

“You can tell down to the plant which ones got water,” said Duane Bierbaum, who irrigates corn and soybeans on his farm near Grand Island.

Another Nebraska farmer said he was harvesting 50 bushels of corn per acre in his non-irrigated fields, but expects to bring in 160 bushels per acre from corn planted under center-pivot irrigation systems. That’s about normal and amounts to a windfall with corn prices at current levels.

The big question, however, is how much water will be available next year if the drought lingers. Water levels in key Nebraska reservoirs like Lake McConaughy on the Platte River and Harlan County Reservoir on the Republican River plummeted over the dry summer months – a common theme across the Midwest. If they remain low in the weeks and months ahead, water officials could restrict water allotments for 2013. That could really put a hurt on some farmers.

Today, though, an umbrella might actually come in handy at Husker Harvest Days, with showers in the forecast.

In the midst of this Midwestern drought, farmers browsing the latest irrigation technology surely won’t mind dodging a few raindrops. But they must also be wondering whether they will be able to lean on their pivots once again next year if the drought holds.


Harvest Public Media has a booth at Husker Harvest Days. Stop by the Diversified Industries Building and say hi if you’re at the show. We’re signing people up for our Harvest Network, a grassroots reporting effort that lets you help report the news. For more information, click here.