May 7, 2010

Water conference highlights progressive efficiencies, challenges ahead

The University of Nebraska and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted the Water for Food International Conference this week in Lincoln.

The conference had a wide range of presentations of the common theme, of Growing More with Less, with many of the presentations highlighting current research or programs that are proving that we can grow more crop per drop.

In fact, more crop per drop was a statement made Jeff Raikes, a fellow Nebraskan and current CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during his presentation. His presentation also challenged today’s leaders and researches to continue to do more with less.

Raikes said noted that more crop per drop is possible with better farm management, more production from rain fed crops and improved output of irrigated agriculture. It will also take improved technologies – new varieties of crops and seeds, new water storage efforts and more efficient pumps. Plus there’s water rights, infrastructure and compensating farmers for using less water.

Don McCabe of Nebraska Farmer wrote a bit about Raikes presentation. You can find that full article here.

Much of the research highlighted during the conference showed the efficiencies that farmers have achieved over time and what increased efficiencies have yet to be gained.

Presenters were from all around the world discussed not only the possibilities, but also the many benefits that come from such efficiencies. Economic development and decreased hunger rates are just two of the many positives of such an expansion.

The world continues to have a growing population, a population that will continue to demand a food source that will have to be grown on fewer acres with greater efficiencies. The plus is that farmers from around the world have shown that they have increased production per unit of input, have and will continue to adopt the latest in technology and advances and will meet this demand.

The "more with less" language is a message corn growers in Nebraksa – and across the country – have been talking about for more than a year. In Nebraska, this is part of the Sustaining Innovation messages, which include:
  • American farmers grow 5 times more corn than they did in the 1930s but do so on 20 percent less land.
  • Corn farmers cut erosion 44 percent in two decades thanks to new tillage methods.
  • American farmers slashed the fertilizer needed to grow a bushel of corn by 36 percent in just three decades.
  • Monitoring soil moisture levels and measuring the amount of water corn plants lose each day is helping Nebraska corn farmers significantly reduce irrigation and water demand. (FYI, more than 85 percent of the total U.S. corn crop is rain-fed only. Less than 15 percent is supplemented with irrigation.)
  • And more.
The Nebraska Corn Board's Don Hutchens and Kelly Brunkhorst attended much of the conference, so some of the details here come from their notes.

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