Dayna Gross, who serves as the Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Watershed conservation manager in Idaho, is currently thinking outside of traditional partnerships by facilitating a collaboration between MillerCoors Brewing company and local barley growers.
Gross has also introduced water conservation initiatives, energy conservation initiatives and habitat improvements in the area, which have been well-received by local farmers. Some of the simplest changes were the most effective, she said, like taking end guns off of irrigation rigs and working with farmers to instead only plant areas within direct reach of water.
The changes, she said, saved farmers in the long run because they allow for more attention to the irrigated areas without wasting time, inputs and energy on areas with consistently poor yields. The out-of-production corners also provided wildlife habitat, Gross said.
"It's about efficiency right now; being able to get everything done," Gross added, which is why another portion of her program focuses on alternative ways to implement variable rate irrigation.
One way, she said, is to speed up or slow down pivots based on soil type and slope. She suggested that an option of that type may only cost a "couple thousand" while a full variable rate system, by comparison, could easily cost $20,000 to install and implement.
She hopes the variable rate alternative technologies will someday be available for Natural Resources Conservation Service funding.
Overall, incentive programs seem to be having an impact on irrigated producers, though Johnson suggested that continued improvement – and keeping an eye out for possible adverse consequences of certain practices – will be necessary for the future of incentive programs and improved, automated irrigation systems.
"These systems make sense," Johnson said.