A good start this spring | TheFencePost.com

A good start this spring

Mark Watson
Panhandle No-Till Educator

Early spring precipitation has helped to replenish subsoil moisture across most of the Panhandle. Our area has teetered on the edge of the looming drought south of us across much of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. The southern portion of Nebraska’s Panhandle has been short on moisture since last July.

On our farm we have received above normal moisture since last October. We have a total of 5.98 inches of precipitation from October of 2010 to May of 2011. This is 1.88 inches above normal for this time frame. I consider this period from October till May a critical time for storing subsoil moisture for this year’s crops.

Research has shown this is the time of year where we can really replenish our subsoil moisture. In no-till where we don’t disturb the residue we can capture around 85% of the precipitation we receive during this time of year. I feel our subsoil has been replenished and we have a full-soil moisture profile heading into this summer which gives us a good chance to produce good yields provided we receive normal rainfall during the growing season.

Recently the Upper Niobrara White NRD and the North Platte NRD released their findings on their spring monitoring well data. These readings are taken each spring to determine overall groundwater fluctuations. Their data indicates good news in the fact the overall groundwater showed some positive gains for the region.

There were monitoring wells with decline around the districts, but overall the groundwater tables showed some positive gains. This comes as good news that with above normal precipitation the past few years it is possible to stabilize the overall groundwater levels. The goal now is to stabilize these groundwater levels when we return to normal and below normal precipitation.

We have a monitoring well located one mile south of our farm. We began monitoring this well in 2002 and this well has shown a decline of 17.02 feet from 2002 to 2011. This is an average of 1.89 feet per year. This well has shown a decline each of the past 2 years even with above normal precipitation.

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In our area we also lost a fairly high percentage of crops planted under center pivots to hail damage last year. These wells had little groundwater pumping during a good portion of the irrigation season which limited the decline of the groundwater. With above normal precipitation and below normal groundwater pumping, some areas still had a decline in the groundwater levels.

As this irrigation season approaches I would encourage all producers with groundwater irrigation to leave as much residue as possible on the soil surface. Residue on the soil surface greatly reduces the need for excessive groundwater pumping during the growing season. I would also encourage producers to purchase soil moisture monitoring equipment to help monitor the soil moisture available for the crop usage. Soil moisture monitoring equipment is a good management tool to avoid excess groundwater pumping.