By Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District
In an era of extreme weather, growers across the globe are more focused than ever on adequate irrigation to sustain crops through periods of drought. Severe drought can threaten a farmer’s livelihood, as it leads to crop damage and reduced yield.
While everyone recognizes that water is valuable, it is challenging to come up with a standard value for irrigation water because it is not equally available, or necessary, at all times and all locations across a region. This variability also makes it difficult to understand the economic impact of efforts to conserve water, as the cost and return on investment of irrigation is constantly fluctuating, even in a single location.
Nebraska has an abundant supply of groundwater stored in the High Plains Aquifer, but it is not a limitless quantity. What are the financial considerations of policies to ensure that there is sufficient water for all for decades to come? Is there a greater economic argument to be made for why conservation efforts, including cover crops and irrigation management, are so important?
A recent study from DWFI researchers sheds light on the conversation by examining the dollar value of irrigation water. The study indicates that the average value of irrigation water is highest in rainfed production areas where irrigation is used only supplementally. Researchers suggest that drought mitigation planning as well as implementing water management and allocation in locations where crop production is under rainfed conditions is of the utmost importance—especially where water sustainability has not traditionally been prioritized.