By Jon Zirkle, Michigan State University Extension
Agriculture Census shows that 9.1% of Michigan farms had irrigated land, an increase from the 2002 Census. Michigan State University Extension Irrigation Educator Lyndon Kelley expects the upcoming 2012 Agriculture Census will show these figures have grown dramatically. Kelley says numerous irrigation companies in the region have seen sales double since 2006. Furthermore, the higher crop yields made possible in part by irrigation have surely contributed to agriculture's growing role in the Michigan economy.
While Michigan has an abundance of groundwater and surface water, the amount of precipitation the state receives during summer months is inadequate to meet the needs of some field crops during their period of greatest evapotranspiration. According to a January 2012 report from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan is the driest state east of the Mississippi River during July and August. With irrigation as a management option, crop water demands can be met during summer months, providing a safety net for farmers who could otherwise lose a crop. Contract production operations for seed corn, potatoes, snap beans, pickles and other specialty crops have become established in regions of Michigan with sufficient potential for irrigation for this very reason.
Given the attention to water issues in the past year, MSU Extension is offering a bus tour to the heart of central Wisconsin's sandy, irrigated production region on March 11-12 to explore the topic of water use in agriculture. Joining the tour is still possible, and we welcome registrations. Participants will gain insight on what a nearby state that faces similar though unique water challenges is doing to keep agriculture strong in the face of extreme weather, new water withdrawal regulations and competition from other industries for water usage. Registration is now open.
The two-day tour will feature stops at a number of farms, the University of Wisconsin Hancock Research Station, and talks with farmers, irrigation professionals, municipal officials involved with water management and University of Wisconsin educators, faculty and researchers. Attendees will have opportunities to learn about irrigated field crops, potatoes, snap beans and cranberries, as well as discuss tillage, cover cropping and irrigation technicalities along the way. The trip involves one overnight stay in Stevens Point, Wis. A registration fee covers bus fare, meals, lodging, fees and snacks for the ride to and from Wisconsin. Departure will be from the Kalamazoo area on early Monday morning.