Panhandle irrigators planning for ongoing drought
COLLEGE STATION — All parts of the state received rain Sept. 11-18, with many areas getting 2 to 3 inches, and isolated areas getting more than 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Large parts of the Panhandle and the Rolling Plains areas received 1 inch to 1.5 inches. Even the Far West received rain, with large pockets getting 1 inch to 1.5 inches or more, but most areas getting a trace to 0.5 inch, according to the weather service.
Though the rains were welcome and helped crops, soil-moisture levels in many western parts of the state remained short or very short, according to this week’s reports by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents. And some areas still remained far behind in rainfall for the year.
In the Panhandle, the drought is causing big changes in the way farmers — especially those who irrigate — manage water and cropping rotations, said Nich Kenny, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist, Amarillo.
Despite the recent rains, the Panhandle remains about 7 inches behind for the year, he said.
“Irrigation needs in the Texas High Plains have opened some farmers’ eyes in the last couple years,” Kenny said. “After two years of severe drought, they’ve come to admit the drought is likely here to stay and that cropping patterns are going to have to be adapted accordingly.”
Kenny said that during the last two years, irrigators have pumped as much water as they typically pump in three growing seasons, which has caused Ogallala Aquifer levels to further declines.
The Ogallala Aquifer stretches across eight states, from Texas through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming, Kenny said. It supplies about 30 percent of the nation’s groundwater for irrigation, and drinking water for many communities, and its decline is dictating big changes for irrigated agriculture.
“To maintain the sustainability of agriculture in the region – especially irrigated agriculture – they know they’re going to have to look at different crop rotations, look at splitting fields, incorporating more cotton, more sorghum, more winter wheat, into typical corn-cropping patterns,” he said.
“The idea that they can rely on so much rainfall, and always bank on it, has become a bit of a fallacy. They’ve had enough crop damage and real risk from drought that they’re just managing differently.”
Kenny also noted that modern center pivot and drip irrigation systems are approaching 100 percent efficiency, which means sustainability is going to have to come from different water and crop management systems.
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