Water for Food

Interns explore water use in farming at the field level in western Nebraska

August 7, 2017

By Alexander Stejskal

The first stop on the trip was Paulman Farms in Sutherland, Nebraska, located about 20 miles west of North Platte. Roric Paulman was kind enough to give the intern team a glimpse into life as a Nebraska farmer, as well as some insight into his decision-making strategies. Paulman began the tour of his operation by taking the team into his office and showing us the various computer and phone applications that he uses. Paulman Farms is willing to adopt new agricultural technology if they believe it will help their operation become more sustainable while still increasing profits. This is evident in their management practices, which include growing 11 different crops to reduce water consumption, as well as having 15 soil moisture probes on each plot in their operation. He emphasized that if a new website or application takes longer than 30 seconds to reach an actionable item, farmers will likely not have time to use that agricultural technology. Paulman later stated, “Yield is not the benchmark of profitability.” He went on to emphasize the importance of reducing input costs whenever possible.

After seeing how computers and phone applications are used as decision-making tools, we went out into the field, where Paulman showed us what to look for when determining crop health and how the field changes when different management practices are used. “It seems like everyone is telling the farmer what they should do and what they should change, but few people actually engage the farmer and see how this would impact their operation,” said Blanche Butera, a Integrated sciences with a focus on conservation agriculture, entrepreneurship and leadership, and water science major from Rwanda at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The next stop was Ogallala and Lake McConaughy, where the team spent a relaxing evening by the lake. Some went swimming while others went fishing, but it might be more accurate to say they went casting, as luck was not on their side and no fish were caught.

The second day consisted of a tour of the TAPS (Testing Ag Performance Solutions) farm at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, Nebraska. UNL-TAPS is hosting the Nebraska Farm Management Competition, where each competitor is given a plot of land 18×100 rows wide and must manage that plot, with the main goals being highest profitability, water use efficiency, nitrogen efficiency, and yield. There are currently 15 plots in the competition, where competitors are able to control for hybrid choice, seed count, nitrogen application, irrigation scheduling, and crop insurance. Competitors are also in charge of marketing their grain, where total yields are multiplied by 3000 to simulate a 3000-acre operation. The TAPS farm will be hosting a field day on August 24th and 25th, where workshops will be held and the winners announced.

The TAPS farm gave the interns a look at what extension offices are doing to promote sustainable management practices and how farmers have participated in those activities.

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