In 2012, in the midst of the worst U.S. drought this century, corn growers in Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas heavily irrigated their crops in an effort to compensate for sustained dryness and lack of rain. In the eastern portions of Nebraska and Kansas, where producers don’t rely heavily on irrigation, demand increased significantly, from about 4 to 8 acre-inches during an average year to 17 to 20 acre-inches. In Colorado and the arid, western portions of Nebraska and Kansas, where irrigation is a more prevalent method and water more scarce, irrigation demand skyrocketed, from 12 to 17 acre-inches during an average year to over 30 inches.
For someone with a background in economics like Renata Rimsaite, a water market analyst with the National Drought Mitigation Center and Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, the region where water is scarcest over a period of drought is where it would seemingly hold its highest value. That did not turn out to be the case during the 2012 drought, according to an analysis by Rimsaite and a team of researchers that included Justin Gibson, Data Scientist at Corteva Agriscience and Nicholas Brozovic, Director of Policy at Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.
The findings offered the kind of surprising results that led Rimsaite to study water markets for the NDMC and DWFI well after being assigned to do so in pursuit of her PhD in agricultural and environmental economics at Penn State University. At the two Nebraska-based centers, Rimsaite is working to better understand how the U.S. Drought Monitor, water markets and incentive-based water management techniques can be used together to improve water scarcity management policies for farmers.