Group photo in front of a field
International

Reflections on the Tour Experience

from February 17–22, 2018, Irrigation Leader magazine, Rubicon Water, International Water Screens, and Alligare sponsored the 3rd Annual Irrigation Leader Magazine Irrigation Education Tour. This year, the tour returned to Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, to visit Goulburn-Murray Water, Coleambally Irrigation, and Murrumbidgee Irrigation. Stops on the tour included the Great Ocean Road, the Rubicon Water factory, a low energy pipeline installation, a dairy farm, and a irrigation demonstration farm. The tour highlighted how the latest in water delivery technology addresses the challenges of moving water and growing crops Down Under. The following participants shared their impressions of the tour and Australia

The New Zealand Perspective

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Nebraska is a state where every person accepts and acknowledges that agriculture underpins their economy. There is also a clear acknowledgment that farming equals food. Because of that, the Nebraskan approach to managing environmental issues is different. I was also really impressed to see the effort put into research and education, with a focus on how to feed a growing population whilst ensuring that the environment is looked after. Education is also something that they are passionate about, and this extends to youth education as well.

Keri Johnston Director, Irricon Resource Solutions + Irrigationnz Board of Directors

We were struck by the way agriculture was appreciated and valued in Colorado and Nebraska. We had heard so much about the Midwest, and it was great to see the role of the Corn Belt in producing food for the world and to gain a better appreciation of the importance of agriculture in the U.S. economy. We had heard a lot about the Dust Bowl of the past and were very impressed by how irrigation and noor low-tillage methods had transformed the countryside into productive land.

Grant Ludemann

EGL Pastoral

While there are a lot of differences between there and here, we still came home with lots of ideas and also a very real appreciation of the warmth of the people we met. One comment made on the first day—that we shouldn’t call center pivots irrigators, but applicators that can apply water, fertilizer, and other chemicals, wherever, whenever and in whichever quantities needed—has both financial and environmental benefits. I was very impressed with the way the natural resources districts had spent more than $80 million to buy land and then had retired the water right and sowed native grasses. I was also impressed by the power of philanthropy and the work done by the Water for Food Institute. The prevalence and acceptance of GMO was also notable. Science and history are losing the debate with emotion and politics here in New Zealand, and it is illegal to use genetic modification.

Ele Ludemann EGL Pastoral

Spending time with others from our industry and seeing a different part of the world was just as beneficial as the information I gained around water, farming, and irrigation. For me, the greatest learning was around nitrate levels in water, the education of children with regard to agriculture, and how the use of fertigation ties all of this together.

It impressed me to see the resources put into education. The flow-on effect of this is that younger generations understand the need for agriculture and understand where their food comes from, even if they live in cities. Although cities create their own problems with the pollution of waterways, these generally aren’t highlighted in our media, and as our farmers are an easy target, they seem to be the ones who are always in the spotlight.

I see the use of fertigation in applying fertilizers to plants little and often as something farmers can instigate for a relatively low cost and very quickly. This will become a tool to assist with the reduction of nitrate levels within their properties and regions. Nitrates in our ground and surface water are becoming a hot topic in our country; our dairy farmers in particular are under the microscope.

Ben Donaldson Manager, Irrigation Services Southern

Nebraska has a different stance on sustainability than New Zealand. Protection of social and economic interests seemed to be the first priority, but at the same time, the natural resources managers were looking for and working towards solutions for improving environmental outcomes. For example, in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, the aim was to increase application efficiency so as to reduce the rate of groundwater drawdown; a beneficial byproduct of this is decreasing nutrient losses. In New Zealand, sustainability means limiting abstraction to a safe level while meeting agreed values for the water resource (e.g., instream flow and nutrient concentration limits for aquatic ecosystem health, maintenance of minimum groundwater pressures at the coast to prevent saline intrusion, neighboring bore interference effects, etc.).

Managing water and nutrient allocation within the Ogallala aquifer, which covers portions of eight states, is extremely challenging given, first, the sheer size of the aquifer, making groundwater modeling of the aquifer at a scale appropriate for local decisionmaking nearly impossible with current modeling technology, and second, the fact that water management is controlled the district level with some state and federal oversight.

In contrast to New Zealand’s riparian gravel aquifers where the throughflow rate is high, the Ogallala aquifer has very low throughflow rates (a few meters per day) due to the very flat hydraulic gradients (0.0013 m/m), even though the aquifer permeabilities and bore yields for large irrigation wells are similarly large. The implication of this is that the flushing of nutrients is much slower, and consequently, in some places like the Central Platte District, nitrate-N levels were around 45 mg/L.

Finally, New Zealand has much better coffee than Nebraska.

Jon Williamson

Managing Director, Williamson Water Advisory

I knew very little about corn before I arrived in Nebraska, but came away with a new respect for how much the productivity of this plant has been enhanced in recent years; it now produces amazing yields despite limitations in both water and nutrient inputs. Even with our short growing season in South Island, New Zealand, I am looking to see how this crop might integrate into our dairyfarming business.

The potential for introducing fertigation in New Zealand also looks promising, as we are under a lot of pressure here to make our use of nitrogen more efficient. I was pleased that we had people from one of our larger fertilizer cooperatives with us to explore the options for bringing this technology to New Zealand. The visit to Valley in McCook was of special interest to me, as we have eight of their center pivots on our farm. This visit and the Husker Harvest Days were something of a pilgrimage for us to catch up on all the latest innovations in irrigation and machinery.

The issues we face in New Zealand as irrigators are similar to those in Nebraska. As you would expect in democratic nations, we have to balance and reconcile competing demands for water from many sectors. Our solutions also sound similar: “Better to work from the bottom up than the top down.” I was truly impressed with the work of Nebraska's natural resources districts. Like us, they understand that local people know the most about how to solve local problems. As a farmer with four generations on the land before me, it was great to meet fellow farmers at the barbecue hosted by John Maddux.

We all feel the same sense of responsibility for the land we farm and the same hope to pass it on to future generations in better shape than we found it. There is no better way than sitting around a farmyard with a beer to find common ground on the farming challenges we face. We much appreciated the time spent with University of Nebraska people in both North Platte and Lincoln. With all these challenges we face, it is vital that we have good science on our side. The huge importance of water for food production cannot be overstated, and we wish the university well with its global conference next year.

Paul Jarman

Owner, Essendon Farms, Darfield, New Zealand

The Nebraska Perspective

I knew very little about corn before I arrived in Nebraska, but came away with a new respect for how much the productivity of this plant has been enhanced in recent years; it now produces amazing yields despite limitations in both water and nutrient inputs. Even with our short growing season in South Island, New Zealand, I am looking to see how this crop might integrate into our dairyfarming business.

The potential for introducing fertigation in New Zealand also looks promising, as we are under a lot of pressure here to make our use of nitrogen more efficient. I was pleased that we had people from one of our larger fertilizer cooperatives with us to explore the options for bringing this technology to New Zealand. The visit to Valley in McCook was of special interest to me, as we have eight of their center pivots on our farm. This visit and the Husker Harvest Days were something of a pilgrimage for us to catch up on all the latest innovations in irrigation and machinery.

The issues we face in New Zealand as irrigators are similar to those in Nebraska. As you would expect in democratic nations, we have to balance and reconcile competing demands for water from many sectors. Our solutions also sound similar: “Better to work from the bottom up than the top down.” I was truly impressed with the work of Nebraska's natural resources districts. Like us, they understand that local people know the most about how to solve local problems.

As a farmer with four generations on the land before me, it was great to meet fellow farmers at the barbecue hosted by John Maddux. We all feel the same sense of responsibility for the land we farm and the same hope to pass it on to future generations in better shape than we found it. There is no better way than sitting around a farmyard with a beer to find common ground on the farming challenges we face.

We much appreciated the time spent with University of Nebraska people in both North Platte and Lincoln. With all these challenges we face, it is vital that we have good science on our side. The huge importance of water for food production cannot be overstated, and we wish the university well with its global conference next year.

Paul Jarman Owner, Essendon Farms, Darfield, New Zealand

It’s always good to get people out on a structure and let them see what’s going on out there. We took them to the Cambridge diversion dam, where we’ve made some improvements over the years. We built a pump system to supplement Bartley Canal, and we automated the Cambridge Canal diversion gates along with 28 miles of canal using Rubicon Water’s FlumeGates and software technology.

They had lots of good questions. We’re half a worldapart, but we have lots of the same issues. They talked about instream flow and the demand for water. We’re able to divert every drop of water at our diversion dam; we’re not required to leave a certain amount in the stream. I think they were a little surprised by that. Actually, it would be pretty devastating if we were required to bypass a certain amount of the flow. There’s just not enough natural flow anymore. We have a hard enough time stretching the water supply now.

Brad Edgerton

General Manager, Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District

The New Zealand group was an interesting and diverse one. Based on their questions, I think they were very interested in how many of our programs work on a voluntary basis. The Central Platte Natural Resources District has tried hard not to be an enforcement agency unless we absolutely have to be. Some of our quality-control measures, for instance, like the crop reporting forms, are mandatory.

We really have worked very hard on educational programs over the last 30 years. We have a University of Nebraska– Lincoln employee in our office who assists us with the quality programs and the on-farm demonstration projects— we’ve done hundreds of nitrogen management plots that show yields based on recommended nitrogen application, 50 pounds above recommended rates, and 50 pounds below, and we have shown that at 50 pounds less, the yield advantage is frequently pretty much nonexistent.

They also had questions about the Platte River Program, which I told them about. The Central Platte Natural Resources District board was looking for options other than regulation for putting water back into the river. They seemed to be very interested in how we were putting water back in the river without regulating every water user. Through partnering with four of our surface-water irrigation districts and voluntary buy-outs of irrigated acres, we’ve been successful in getting water back to the river through a voluntary, rather than regulatory, process. I think about half the group wanted to talk about that regulatory aspect, and half the group wanted to talk about quality.

I did ask a few questions about how they operated in their country, and they replied that they were here to learn from us, not so that we could learn from them. I got a kick out of that comment. I can appreciate that. Their questions were quite direct, too. That’s refreshing. And if they thought that you hadn’t answered a question directly, or if they didn’t understand something, they questioned it.

I think they were surprised by the support for agriculture, and by the mindset most Nebraskans share, that ag drives our economy in this state and that we appreciate agriculture, but that we’re also concerned about our natural resources and the environment. There’s a fine line between natural resource protection and a robust agricultural economy. The majority of our producers understand that sustainable natural resources are what's best for the economy and best for them as well.

Lyndon Vogt General Manager, Central Platte Natural Resources District