With increasing discussion about agriculture's water use and the prospect of raising yields to feed 9 billion people within the decade, farmers who use irrigation are beginning to consider production changes and incentives for those changes to both conserve water and improve profits.
With the help of public and private entities, these changes range from equipment upgrades to actually removing land from production – options that each provide unique challenges, but potential payoffs.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which falls under the umbrella of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, is one of the programs working to bring conservation and irrigation together under an incentive-based model.
The program, which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers for improving conservation practices, encompasses secondary programs that focus on irrigation.
Dan Johnson, NRCS California State Water Manager, says the EQUIP-supported changes he is helping to implement on California's farms are generally reducing water loss and contributing to a reduction in energy consumption.
Johnson, who explained his experiences with farmers and EQUIP projects during a Thursday webinar sponsored by the Irrigation Association, provided an example of a California farmer who was able to change his irrigation systems to drip irrigation, and use fertilizer in a more targeted manner.
That, Johnson said, keeps nitrates out of the soil and "is like music to our ears."
Producers have also seen benefits from a production standpoint or a convenience standpoint, Johnson said.
"One of the benefits is building a system that is automated or self-operated – they like that," he noted.
Those benefits, Johnson concluded, are generating interest in conservation practice adoption. However, he said, program facilitators will need to continue to look for ways to increase program benefits and adjust accordingly.