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 to effectively minimize the loss of moisture from rain while using irrigation water which is pumped from the below the surface of the ground or from a canal or river to meet the water needs of the crop if rainfall is deficient. This allows the farmer 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
Field research is conducted at the center to evaluate production practices that look to maximize the benefit of every inch of water applied or maximize the conservation of water within the system by minimizing loss through evaporation. Some of these practices include evaluating what crop growth stage will have the biggest response to applied water, what residue management practices conserve the most moisture, or what crop planting rate is optimum for various water limited environments. As farming continues evolve through innovation and adaptation of new technologies, understanding how to use these new approaches in a system to maximize the benefit of limited resource like water is essential in order to meet the demands of a growing planet.
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.