York Farmers Pioneer Soil Moisture Research


A new report shows Nebraska groundwater levels dropped 2.5 feet, starting with the great drought of 2012.Leaders at the University of Nebraska say research done locally may be one of the most important farm projects in the nation.

Sharing his experience with others, Jerry Stahr isn't afraid to try new things on his farm near York.

"The technology keeps improving, we try to jump on the bandwagon and go with it," he said.

Joining Jerry are his neighbors, brothers Ray and Ron Makovicka who quickly adopted soil moisture sensors before they became mainstream.

Jerry said, "Three of the first six."

"So we were some of the very first," Ray chimed in.

"Gives you an idea of our age," Jerry finished, with a laugh.

As part of the Ag Water Management Network, the work they're doing may be among the most important farm research in the country.

Extension Educator Gary Zoubek said, "Just saw the report that said on average our water table dropped about two and a half feet, so water is our lifeblood of Nebraska agriculture, so anything we can do to use it as effectively as we can, that's the goal of our ag water network."

Ron Makovicka said, "It started small with the Extension pushing little ideas and it's growing because it pays."

That small idea is now big enough to fill the York City Auditorium, with farmers who are using Watermark sensors to manage their irrigation.

The sensors let farmers know when to irrigate, and when not to.

Ray said, "The first year especially it's hard to believe how much water you actually have in the soil at times, when you see everyone else irrigating and according to the sensors, you don't need to be running."

They're pioneering farmers, part of the University of Nebraska's On–Farm Research network.

They share data with scientists, and convince friends to give new tools a shot.

Zoubek said, "Producers like these, farmers telling farmers what works is some of the best education we have."

Irrigation has been called the lifeblood of Nebraska agriculture, and this trio of family farmers is committed to protecting that resource.

Stahr said, "Even more than the monetary thing is that we take care of the water we have here and this is one of the ways to do it. We have to be good stewards. We're here for such a short period of time and we have to take care of what we have.

The University is looking for more farmers like these guys, willing to try new things, like applying sugar to their corn fields among other projects.

Interested farmers should contact their local extension office.