Jocelyn Schlichting’s family operates a farm in Rice, Minnesota dating back to the early 1900’s. Throughout the years, Jocelyn has seen the farm grow and advance with new techniques and innovations.
When my great-grandparents moved to Rice, Minnesota in the early 1900’s, the only land left to settle was the least desirable farm land in the area. Here our soils are extremely sandy, not like the black dirt you put in your gardens. Our soils only hold about 1 inch of water before it runs through the soil profile, there is very limited ability to hold nutrients for an extended period of time, and there’s not a lot of food for soil microbes to live on. For their entire lifetime and half of the next generation, they made ends meet on the farm by raising mediocre quality small grain crops with poor yields.
In the 1970’s, everything changed when our farm added irrigation. Drilling wells to tap into deep, large aquifers, our farm pumps water to manage one of crops most important inputs- water. Irrigation allowed our farm to raise specialty crops like potatoes and kidney beans which don’t thrive on heavy soils. Irrigation was also a critical factor in improving yield on our conventional crops like corn. Those changes made our farm financially stable, which gave us the flexibility to pursue other innovations that would keep our farm financially and environmentally sustainable for several generations to come.
There’s no doubt that agriculture uses large amounts of water to produce food for all of our kitchen tables. That means using irrigation comes with a huge responsibility to use water efficiently and sustainably. Here are just a few of the things we do on our farm to make sure we are producing high quality food AND protecting our resources.
Only use what the plant needs. We work with agronomists and our full time irrigation specialists with over 20 years of experience to closely monitor the moisture in the soil and the plant growth stage so we only add the amount of water the plant needs at any given time. They consider how much water is already stored in the soil, evaporation due to the temperature, and the expected plant needs based on the size. The water the plant can’t use moves through the soil profile, back into the water table where we can use it again later.
Maintain Equipment. Keeping the irrigation equipment maintained is a constant battle! But our irrigation specialists are constantly checking over our irrigators to make sure each and every spray nozzle is working as it should. When our equipment is working properly, we can be confident we are putting water on our crops consistently and only using what we need.
Use Technology. Most of our irrigators are connected to phone apps so our irrigation specialists can monitor each irrigator no matter where they are in the world. They can quickly identify problems and have records of when and how much water is applied. They can even stop the irrigators in the middle of the night if we get unexpected rain!
Team up. We rely on partners in our farm community and government funded entities to make sure we are constantly innovating and using resources as efficiently as possible. Each farm contributes a portion of their profits to various farm associations – for us the big ones are the MN Corn Growers Association and the Irrigation Association of MN. By funding our farm associations we pool our resources to fund innovative research at Universities and throughout our industry.
Our farm associations play an important role in distributing that research back to the farm so we can actually implement these proven innovations. With help from our local farm associations and government groups like our county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, we measure things like water levels in our wells and nutrient leaching through the soil profile. This data gets combined with other farms taking measurements over several decades so we can benchmark and ensure our use of resources on the farm will be sustainable for generations down the road.
Just like you, we eat what we grow on our farm, we use water in our homes and we spend our spare time on local lakes and rivers. In addition to those shared uses, we also rely on water to run our business and produce food that nourishes hundreds of thousands of families. No one has more reasons than a farmer to protect our water resources. That’s why I know farmers will continue to do their best work every day to be a sustainable user of this shared resource!
-CGMN volunteer, Jocelyn Schlichting
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