By Michael Cox
The only way climate change remains useful to its proponents is if it remains a potential disaster. Take the negative effect away and it becomes nothing more than a point of interest and a fun footnote about a time when some people really believed that they were more powerful than the mechanics that operate the big blue marble.
As I was crossing the 10,000-foot Vail divide the other day, May 17, in a snowstorm that became a whiteout, I thought about climate change. Then as we crossed the capital city, we battled potholes and thunderstorms, I thought about climate change. I wondered if climate change could be blamed for Colfax Avenue potholes?
This past weekend I watched the PGA championship, which was played on the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island on the coast of South Carolina. Few places on this island of dunes are as much as a dozen feet above sea level. I thought about climate change and how the ocean course should be underwater by now. But it isn’t. Ohhh, you know that New Jersey actually does have rising sea levels, or so you have been told. But it turns out that the sea isn’t coming up, Jersey is going down. The Garden State is sinking as are most of the land masses in the area.
Back home after successful cardiac surgery, while thinking about the fact that it was hotter in May 30 years ago in the Uncompahgre Valley and that maybe it is 1 degree hotter on the planet, an interesting thing arrived in my mailbox. It was a timely piece by Darrell Smith of the “Farm Journal’s AgWeb.”
The Farm Journal has been involved in a lengthy study on field tiling, crop yields, and water consumption as related to more volatile weather patterns. The study took place in the Midwest region of the country (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and other states). Here is what Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist at Nutrien Ag Solution, found in his data-gathering exercise.
Over the past 50 years, the region’s temperatures have risen by 1 degree and the nights are 2 degrees cooler. There are six to nine fewer frosty mornings and rainfall has jumped about 5.5 inches per year. Snodgrass says rainfall events of 2 inches or more occur two to three times more often than they did in the early half of the century. Humidity is up 6%. For some growers, there are more growing days. That should mean more yield and higher profits.
There is a catch, but then there always is. Farmers may have to do some workarounds to benefit, but then they have been doing that for centuries. While there might be more water and sunny days, the utilization cycle and methodology has to shift.
“A well-designed controlled drainage system can move a lot of water in a short time, when necessary, while storing some of that water for use later in the season,” Snodgrass said. Controllable tiling under the soil bed is one key.
Farmers have been tiling fields to promote drainage for a long time. Tiling involves introducing a system of tubes or pipes to carry away the water after it passes through the plant zone. It can be stored or directed to another field, and as is the case in the Uncompahgre Valley, where it often is put back into the stream flow. A given gallon of water can pass through several farms or fields before it has evaporated or is returned to the system.
Initial tiling can cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per acre. But when you look at the benefits, such as making changes for the sake of profiting from climate change, the payback is relatively quick. Tiled farmland also is more saleable (lease or actual sale).
By being able to almost completely control water resources in terms of availability and volume, a farmer can take advantage of the more abundant rainfall and the longer growing season. For example, a producer could use the water once, divert it, store it, and use it again later in the season to increase yields during warmer growing days. Also, making full use of tiling, a grower could increase the number of work days in April and May.
As to yield, the researchers say it is no secret that, “Almost every year — not just drought years — we run short of water sometime in the growing season. If a gated tile system lets us hold back just 1 or 2 inches of water in July or August, we might be able to improve ear fill.”
The purpose of the gated tube system is not to simply shut off the water, rather the gates just hold the water at a desired level.
In 2020, gated tile on 30-foot spacing increased corn yields about 16 bushels per acre, compared with non-gated tile. On 60-foot spacing, about 6 bushels were gained; and on 120-foot spacing, 1 to 2 bushels.
Over five years and across all tile spacings, gated systems averaged about 9 bushels per acre more for corn and 4 bushels per acre for soybeans.
Big night for Shavano Conservation District
One of the huge benefits of “opening up” after the COVID-19 closure is that we can finally have our Shavano Valley Conservation District annual meeting and barbecue banquet. The event is on tap for Monday, June 14, at the Montrose Elks Lodge. The program runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Besides a business meeting and district report, the gathering will honor the Farm of the Year, Rancher of the Year and the Conservation Educator of the Year.
The Farmer(s) of the Year are Doug and Brody Flowers. Colona producer, Daris Jutten, is the Rancher of the Year. The educator has not been identified yet, according to Mendy Stewart, the district’s education outreach coordinator.