Farmers Benefit from Rains, Improved Irrigation Technology


On farms like Doug Saathoff's in Adams County, it's time to irrigate.

There's no pivot and no pipes in one of his fields north of Hastings, as he does his part to use less water.

"It was flood irrigated or gravity before, now we're saving quite a bit of water, fuel. Last year I used a little over 8 inches. Flood irrigated I was using 20-30 inches," he explained.

Whether it's subsurface drip systems, or more efficient pivots,technology has made a difference. But that's not the big reason farmers are starting up later this year.

Saathoff said, "We've been fortunate to have rains, cooler weather, things are heating up, just starting to irrigate, looking pretty good."

Still, after two years of drought, farmers feel the pressure to conserve.

"Whether we like it or not, the day's coming where we're only going to be allowed so many inches per year," Saathoff said.

It's resulted in heated debates as natural resources districts set regulations. Rules differ across the state. Some NRD's have a ban on new wells, and many require meters to measure the flow of water.

Some do have what's called an allocation, a limit to the number of inches that can be used.

Farmers are also encouraged to use sensors in the ground to tell them when the soil needs water. So instead of watching the neighbor, guys like Saathoff look at the numbers on their iPads.

He said, "I think I've already saved one pass on the pivot, didn't start as early as some people did, so I knew what was there, got to trust it. Sometimes that's hard to do when you see the neighbors rolling."

Doug figures saving one pass on a pivot saves him a thousand dollars.

"We're saving money on fuel, saving water, it's good for the aquifer, maybe get some water back into that thing this year," he said.

Because of local control, the rules vary region by region. A map showing regulations is available here.