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Let’s talk about agricultural irrigation.......

by Freddie Lamm

As this summer’s agricultural irrigation season ends for a large portion of the United States, we need to remember that there are many important tasks unrelated to our preparations for next season. One of these important tasks is to continue "to inform the public about the importance of agricultural irrigation." This should be an easy task this year following the major drought that is continuing to plague Texas. Estimates of crop losses in Texas have been estimated at $2 billion dollars with a total economic loss to the state of $7 billion dollars. Crop yields for cotton, grain sorghum, corn, and hay are estimated to be reduced by 40, 43, 29 and 51% from last year in Texas, respectively. Perhaps these are more "telling" statistics than the fact that irrigation supplies about 38% of our produce with only 15% of the land. In the simplest terms, we need to tell the public that drought affects our economy. That’s no surprise to us, hopefully it also isn’t to the general public. We should also point out that droughts occur at some time, some place, every year. As I recently heard at a meeting, our predominate method of managing drought is irrigation. That’s such a good idea, let’s say it again. The predominate method of managing drought is irrigation. Now, let’s make sure we tell that to the public. As pessimistic as it may sound, it may be unrealistic to expect the public to ever understand the amount of water required in agricultural production. Maybe, they can better understand stability in crop production and prices. Large scale water development and irrigation projects are perceived to be unrealistic or detrimental in the United States at this time. This is not the case in the Third World as John Chapman, Valmont Irrigation, so aptly stated in this magazine recently (June 1998). Perhaps, the perception of an abundant and relatively cheap food and fiber supply is in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe, we just have to do a better job at educating the public. Droughts will continue to come and go and likewise I expect that many of us will need to irrigate next season. We’re providing some of that stability of crop production and prices, whether the public knows it or not. So, as we put some of our irrigation tasks away for another season, we need to remember the public’s information needs. Let’s talk about agricultural irrigation…….

Freddie Lamm is an Associate Professor for Kansas State University conducting agricultural irrigation engineering research at the KSU Northwest Research-Extension Center, Colby, Kansas. He is the Immediate Past Chair of The IA Agricultural Irrigation Common Interest Group. Comments can be sent to postal address 105 Experiment Farm Road, Colby, Kansas 67701; Email: flamm@ksu.edu; Fax: 785-462-2315; or Phone: 785-462-6281.

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