Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

With Wells Declining, Kansas Farmer Employs New Approach

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

With Wells Declining, Kansas Farmer Employs New Approach

Article excerpt

By Amy Bickel

The Associated Press

HOLCOMB -- On a 100-degree day in July, Dwane Roth could see his neighbors' irrigation pivots pumping water to the corn fields around him.

A handful of years ago, he had the same mentality. In a climate where rain comes sparingly, he translated his high-yielding corn and economic vitality to the need to continually water the crop. So rain or shine in the heat of summer, his irrigation systems would churn out water from the shrinking underground reserve by the gallons. He'd wake up some mornings and look out across the horizon and the lights on the pivots -- knowing they were running.

"It was a mental game," the Finney County farmer said. "You got to keep the damn pivot running."

But amid a recent four-day stretch of triple digits -- hot enough his corn leaves were rolling up, Roth did something unusual for the region.

He turned some of his irrigation systems off.

Because of technology, Roth is working to embrace what might seem like an unfathomable concept in these parts -- especially when you can't see what is happening underground.

Sometimes the crop isn't thirsty.

"It's difficult to shut off," Roth said. "But I called my soil moisture probe guy. He said the whole profile was full and it was only the top 2 inches that was actually dry. So there was no need to turn that irrigation engine on and pump from the Ogallala."

Now he is hoping to change the mindset of his peers across a landscape where corn is king and the Ogallala Aquifer -- the ocean underneath the High Plains -- has been keeping the decades-old farm economy going on the semi-arid Plains.

At least it is for now.

Underlying eight states across the Great Plains, the Ogallala provides water to about one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle production in the United States. It's also a primary drinking water supply for residents throughout the High Plains. …

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