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Farmers and Ranchers See Successful Harvest Despite Drought

Farmers and Ranchers See Successful Harvest Despite Drought

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Rebounding from drought is hard work—but it can be done.

The hard work of farmers and ranchers to install conservation practices on their land coupled with a $27 million investment from USDA helped numerous farmers and ranchers in drought stricken areas across the U.S. still see a successful harvest last fall.

With the help of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, during the widespread harsh drought of 2012 nearly 2,000 producers implemented conservation practices to protect their soil, reduce their water use and help make their operations more durable—all of which helped them weather the hard times.

Take Tommy Henderson, of Clay County, Texas, for example. Because of his active work in conservation, including no-till and cover crops, he was able to have a bumper wheat crop despite drought conditions.

Henderson’s secret lies in building healthier soil, which is better able to store water through extended drought periods. Even with only half the average rainfall for two years in a row and neighbors with crops withering from thirst, Henderson’s wheat crop is thriving.

The use of conservation practices has had considerable impacts on Henderson’s land and the rest of the Great Plains region—so much so that farmers and ranchers have been able to decrease the water withdrawn from the Ogallala Aquifer by more than 280 billion gallons over the past four years.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a 225,000-square-mile underground basin vital to agriculture, municipal and industrial development in a region hit hardest by the drought. The aquifer stretches from western Texas to South Dakota and supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States.

During drought times, the aquifer becomes an even more critical water resource for America’s heartland as many rely on the aquifer in lieu of rainwater. By reducing an individual operation’s water use, conservation helps relieve some of the pressure put on the aquifer.

Conservation also improves the health and prosperity of rural communities. The decrease in irrigation pumping from the aquifer saved an equivalent of 18 million gallons of diesel—helping increase farm profits in the region (by reducing input costs). Many conservation practices source local labor to install put conservation practices on the ground to employ biologists, foresters, pipe makers, dirt movers, welders, engineers and others.

With the drought expected to continue into 2013, NRCS is researching additional water conservation strategies in pilot studies in Colorado and Kansas to help rural America prepare. For example, researchers are studying the effectiveness of removing sediment from human-made water impoundment structures, like ponds, as a way to improve water-holding capacity for water sources used for irrigation or livestock.

Even though the current drought is one of the worst in history, the conservation efforts by America’s private landowners have kept another Dust Bowl at bay. And with no end in sight, there is no better time than now to prepare.

To learn more and prepare for drought, contact your local NRCS field office today.