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Monday, Sep. 15, 2014

Missouri farmers have better water supply than most

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

PORTAGEVILLE -- Every month for the past 12 years Larned, Kan., farmer Robert Lewis has attended meetings concerning Kansas water rights. He's even attended as many as seven meetings in four days and sits in on six water committees.

"And we're still talking in circles," said the concerned citizen.

Unlike Missourians, Kansas residents are facing a water shortage and by law are required to report to the state the amount of water they pump. Certain criteria is applied to determine the quantity of water a person may pump each year, but once they reach their limit, they have to stop pumping water.

One of the problems the state faces is that residents are overpumping water and not reporting it to the state, Lewis said. If they're ever caught by state officials, their well is shut down.

Lewis said he knew someone who was shut down in the second week of July last year.

"He couldn't pump any more water to irrigate his crops," Lewis said. "The problem is some farmers aren't farming wisely. They want to be corn farmers -- which requires a lot of irrigation."

Instead Lewis said he recommends planting half of a field in wheat and then two one-fourth sections of two of the following: corn, beans or milo.

"I bet 75-80 percent of the farmers don't even know how many acre feet of water they have and don't even know their permit number," Lewis noted.

Currently, Missourians are supposed to report if a well is dug and how many gallons of water they use, but many aren't doing that because they're not worried about running out of water.

"Fortunately, we're not like that (Kansas) in Southeast Missouri. We've got plenty of water," assured Joe Henggeler, irrigation scientist at the Missouri Delta Research Center in Portageville.

Most of the water supply in the area recharges with the Mississippi River, Henggeler said. Water supply does get short at times, but by and large, there's plenty of water, he said, adding that he doesn't even foresee a water shortage in years to come, but does know it can happen.

"In Texas, they have no rules and their water level is dropping so fast. You know there may be three people sharing the same river, but only one is being conservative and the other two are using as much of the water as they can," Henggeler explained.

Irrigation use by Southeast Missouri farmers has increased, especially over the last five years, Henggeler noted.

And research shows irrigated land proves much more successful than dry land.

"Generally, we think irrigation works because the yield increase is so dramatic," Henggeler said. "For example dry land will yield about 109 bushel of corn per acre while irrigated land will yield and average of 158 bushel of corn per acre."

Cotton is very profitable with irrigated land, Henggeler added. Dry land will yield about 656 pounds of cotton per acre while irrigated land will yield 834 pounds per acre, he explained.

Forty percent of farmers are using diesel irrigation systems while 33 percent are using electric, according to the Annual Bootheel Irrigation Survey. The remaining 27 percent were undecided or use both.

Irrigation with corn usually kicks in around May, while soybeans and cotton irrigation begins in June, Henggeler noted. It costs approximately $90 per year per acre to irrigate land, he said.

Henggeler recommends farmers who are planning to irrigate this year to get everything ready and hooked up ahead of time so that when the time comes to irrigate, all they have to do is flip a switch.

Get an irrigation schedule such as the Arkansas Scheduler or the Woodruff Charts, Henggeler suggested to farmers. "The yield difference between using a tool and not using a tool is very dramatic. Using a tool yields about 12 more bushels per acre than those who don't use a schedule tool," he said.

Although there isn't an anticipation of a water shortage in the future, Henggeler suggested farmers register their wells so if a water shortage should ever occur, their rights or priority over the well is documented, he said. But, he added, the system Missouri uses right now is working fine.

People, like those at the federal USDA, realize all of the irrigation use is increasing in the Midsouth and Midwest states. They're talking about bringing some investments to the region in terms of a research station between Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., to deal with irrigation in subhumid climates, he said.

"Most of the irrigation research we have was done in the desert climates and most of their research fits us, but those in California or Texas don't have to deal with three inches of rain or compaction of soil because the ground is so wet. So research in the Midwest would be great for our farmers," Henggeler explained.

And the USDA is also looking at getting another irrigation scientist at the Delta Center, Henggeler said.

Lewis also suggested Missouri farmers be aware of people promoting wind energy, which is also used in the western states to power irrigation systems.

"Don't get sucked in on wind power," he warned Missouri farmers. "Too many representatives are fly-by-night operators. Don't fall for this without expert advice or without reading the fine print first."