The Ogallala Aquifer spreads throughout the Great Plains as one of the world’s largest aquifers covering approximately 174,000 square miles (about the area of California). It was named after the town of Ogallala, Nebraska, by N. H. Darton. The recharge of the aquifer is limited and slowed by many factors: the plains region is semiarid, the aquifer is overlain by shallow layers of caliche, etc. This is leading to the Ogallala Aquifer running out of fresh water.
Rick Kellison, project director at Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) is partnering with National Sorghum Producers (NSP) to develop new practices to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer. Their role is to work with a specific number of producers who are operating sorghum in their cropping mix.
Comparing sorghum to cotton, Kellison said they both use about the same amount of water. What benefits this region is the wider option of planting dates that sorghum offers. The length of the growing season for cotton is longer than it is for sorghum. Therefore, if the farmer does not get cotton planted in a timely fashion, they will miss having adequate moisture and their crop not being insured for that year. Planting sorghum is a crop that can be substituted during this time.
“If we missed that [planting] window, then we still have an opportunity if the good Lord lets it rain, we can get some moisture to work with,” Kellison said. “Sorghum is an option to help generate income to keep the guys afloat.”
There is a book given to farmers to measure the sustainability of water within sorghum. The information gathered in this record book is whether the crop is irrigated or not, and how much water is applied. They also keep up with weather data like rainfall, heat and any accumulation. There is a segment for herbicides, irrigation and fertilizer as well.
“We’re in the process of trying to automate that,” Kellison said. “I think we’ve got a tool that will be able to help.”
The overall goal of TAWC working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Program is to aid producers regardless of what crop they would like to grow. They are striving to help their water resource as efficiently and effectively as possible. Kellison discusses how they will support them on how to use and interpret the data but will not tell them what to do.
Samantha Borgstedt, communications, and outreach director of TAWC, explains how the grant lines up with TAWC’s own mission and goals.
“It aligns with our mission of water conservation in this region,” Borgstedt said.