DTN special correspondent Elizabeth Williams' recent articles on "Fixer-Upper Farms" left out, in my opinion, a key reason for the increase in drain tile and irrigation system installation that are going on. These, of course, are not cheap. A farm tiling system costs thousands of dollars, and it's not unreasonable to ballpark $100 grand for putting in a center pivot irrigation system, when you total up the cost of drilling a well, installing the motor, and the pivot system itself. And, as the articles mentioned, these investments are being made in non-traditional areas; Indiana as an irrigation increase hotbed? But it's happening.
The part that I think needs to have more attention given to it is this--that, while these investments are being made for the stated reasons of more production and thus higher income, there is another significant reason for these investments--climate change.
There are two sides to this subject, both of which are covered in conclusions on climate change impact put out by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in a report titled "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" published in 2009.
Here's part of what the report had to say about heavy rain:
"One of the most pronounced effects of climate change is the increase in heavy downpours. Precipitation has become less frequent but more intense, and this pattern is projected to continue across the United States. One consequence of excessive rainfall is delayed spring planting..."
How to manage that excessive rainfall? Put in tile to move the water out.
And, here's part of what the report has to say about dryness:
"Drought frequency and severity are projected to increase in the future over much of the United States...Increased drought will be occurring at a time when crop water requirements also are increasing due to rising temperatures."
When summertime rainfall is not dependable enough, irrigation becomes a necessity.
There are many reasons to invest in improvements. My suggestion here, though, is that what we are seeing is at least a tacit response to climate change. Gene Takle at Iowa State University suggests, "Watch how people spend their money--that will tell you what they really think." And we may be seeing that borne out in fields over much of the central U.S. right now when it comes to climate change.
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