In Drought, Limited Irrigation Is Sensible Choice

Kansas Viewpoint

Giving farmers option to use less water in drought makes sense; rules hamper limited irrigation option

Published on: August 8, 2012

Today came yet another announcement in a series of emergency measures to try to help farmers hit hard by this year’s drought.

In Kansas, the need for practical policy relief goes well beyond the usual state of emergency to changes that will help farmers who are hit by drought far more frequently than those in the major production regions of the cornbelt.

Kansas senior Sen. Pat Roberts sent another letter to the Obama administration on Wednesday, asking for approval for the limited irrigation crop insurance, a measure that would not only provide drought relief this year, but would offer an added benefit in helping farmers in the Ogalalla Aquifer to reduce their water use and extend the life of the aquifer.

It’s easy to see how beneficial this simple change in regulation would be for farmers and the water future of Kansas. It’s difficult to understand why this can’t be a streamlined regulation.

Current regulations require farmers to insure crops either as fully irrigated or as dryland. That leaves farmers with no flexibility to grow a crop that requires only limited irrigation which would enable them to shift from high-water use crops such as corn to less intensive water crops such as sorghum and cotton.

In a multi-year drought the good common sense of Kansas farmers tells them to switch to a crop that takes less water. But every crop requires some water and limited irrigation is the answer in years when nature provides nothing.

It’s better for the farmer, who has something to harvest and sell; better for the aquifer, which has less drawndown; better for livestock producers, who have the benefit of some kind of feed crop and better for the ethanol industry, which can use sorghum interchangeably with corn as a feedstock.

With a win, win, win, win available, why is it so hard to get this approved? If you wonder too, start firing off letters to the Risk Management Association and to members of Congress as well as the Secretary Vilsack and President Obama. If they get enough mail and e-mail, maybe they’ll take action to get this done.