Study proves importance of irrigation

Thursday, November 3, 2005

It's been a long time since the value of irrigation was measured in Nebraska, so it was eye-opening last week when the Nebraska Policy Institute announced that irrigation added $4.5 billion to the state's economy in 2003.

That's an immense amount of money, shown by the fact that the total is one and a half times larger than the state of Nebraska's annual budget. Irrigation's effect on the state's economic health is awesome, with researchers crediting the irrigation industry with creating 45,000 jobs in Nebraska, including hundreds in McCook and the surrounding counties of Southwest Nebraska.

The manager of Southwest Irrigation in McCook, Dusty Hoffman, has been an eye witness to the growth of the irrigation industry, starting in the business 32 years ago in Colorado.

Irrigation remains of critical importance, Hoffman says, but now -- more than ever -- farmers must manage their water use with precision in order to make irrigation pay maximum dividends.

"Management is at the top of the scale in an irrigator's success," he said. "With only 13 inches of annual water allocation, farmers must be precise in deciding what crops to plant, when to irrigate and how much to irrigate. The farmers also have to be very careful about which conservation programs to enter, because some are not sufficient to meet the mortgage requirements for irrigated ground," Hoffman declared.

Still, wisely used, Hoffman said irrigation can make a valuable difference for farmers. "That's especially true in dry periods, when irrigators' crops may make it through, but dryland farmers' may not." An example of this came this past July when good-looking ecofallow corn was blistered by the hot spell in July, while irrigated corn pulled through, and then benefited from the showers in August and September.

As the $4.5 value estimate shows, irrigation has produced a boom for Nebraska agriculture, generating outstanding yields on semi-arid land. Limits on water use will require precise management, but the wise use will be worth it to extend the immense value of irrigation in Nebraska.

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