Dryland farming is dependent solely on rainfall to grow crops. When dryland farmers receive adequate rainfall, the chances of a bumper crop increase. When they receive below-average rainfall, the likelihood of a good crop dwindles. Irrigated farming relies on the farmers’ ability and success in pumping water from below the surface of the ground or from a canal or river to their field to supplement rain. Irrigation gives farmers the opportunity to apply consistent and needed amounts of water to a crop.
Gothenburg is a desirable location to conduct research because it is near the center of the state of Nebraska. In Nebraska, precipitation varies from to 34 inches in eastern Nebraska to 14 inches annually in western Nebraska. Gothenburg receives an average of 23 inches of rain annually. This places Gothenburg in the transition zone of dryland farming to irrigated farming. As a result, Monsanto has research at Gothenburg on both systems to help farmers understand a systems-based approach to manage water better.
In the Western Great Plains of Nebraska and Kansas, farmers in dryland areas face increased weather and drought variability, and those in irrigated areas face restrictions on pumping water for their crops. The demonstrations and research at Gothenburg focus on ways to help farmers make better decisions and build a better system for managing risk in water-stressed areas.
The Rainout Shelter
As part of a research project, Monsanto built a rainout shelter. The shelter is a movable structure that researchers can roll over a field to prohibit rain from falling on the crops.
The shelter makes it possible to accurately simulate different drought scenarios while keeping all other factors, such as soil characteristics, constant at a field-scale level. With a research project in an open field using rainfall as the control, a spot rain shower can impact the results. Different parts of the field receive different amounts of rain as well. The shelter eliminates the rain variable and can produce exact levels of water, leading to a clearer picture of how crops use water.
Managing Crops in Drought Situations
In addition to water-use research, drought research is a focus at Gothenburg. It is impossible to predict with certainty when a drought will occur. However, there are some things farmers can try to do to manage the impact of a potential drought. The Gothenburg site developed a research demonstration called “The Journey of Drought” to ascertain the impact of drought on the various parts of a corn-growing system.
In total, six demonstration steps were chosen, with recommended practices provided to each step. For example, the first step involved decisions not typically recommended, such as poor agronomic practices, poor hybrid selection and no biotech trait protection. By the sixth step, all recommended practices were included in the demonstration, such as conservation tillage, the best hybrid selection for the field and multiple biotech traits, including the biotech drought trait in Genuity® DroughtGard™ Hybrids. When the best practices were used, the combination of genetics, biotech traits and agronomic practices produced more bushels for every inch of water.
The Gothenburg Water Utilization Learning Center is the ideal place for Monsanto to perform water research. Showcasing water utilization methods within a systems-based approach is imperative to growing yield sustainably.