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Future water supplies from the Ogallala Aquifer are a concern near Wildorado, Texas, and three young brothers are using their natural flair for acquiring technology to help extend the resource. They are staking their own and their families' futures on the likelihood that they will have water throughout their farming careers.
"Water is a long-term concern, always in the back of your mind," notes Brittan Gruhlkey, who is 25. "It's why we're trying to do things to maximize the amount we are using. Do I think we're going to be out in 10 years? No, but we do see the need to be conservative with what we have."
Brittan and his brothers Braden, 26, and Cameron, 22, all have college degrees and are partners in an operation producing corn, cotton, wheat, sorghum and cattle. They farm together and also with their dad and mom, Bill and Timma Gruhlkey, totaling 5,300 acres and looking toward expansion.
"Farming has been a dream since all of us were little," Brittan said. "All of us knew in our hearts that this is where we wanted to be."
DUTIES ARE DIVIDED
Brittan spends the most time on marketing, and he usually handles irrigation systems on the brothers' 2,000-acre portion, where a quarter of the acreage is watered. But as brother Braden points out, "It depends on the day. If we wake up to our phones texting us that all of our sprinklers are stuck, we're all on pivots that day." Braden normally does spraying and general office duties.
Cameron, armed with a new degree from West Texas A&M University, in nearby Canyon, is in charge of planting and usually runs the combine during harvest.
Adopting technology where appropriate has helped the young Gruhlkey men become more efficient with their time and water. And they operate as a team.
"They discuss everything," noted Mike White, district conservationist here with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "It's amazing to see three brothers so synchronized on their train of thought."
The brothers have used technical assistance and various cost-share programs through NRCS to take on new technology for pinching an inch of water where they can. Even so, sustainability to them is more than turning off the sprinklers here and there. Over the last three years, like other farmers in the area, they've essentially watered 24/7 through the season to keep corn alive. Cotton and other less-thirsty crops get a lower priority.
MORE BUSHELS PER GALLON
"We're watering the same corn acreage with a little less water, but we're also growing more bushels on an acre, returning more bushels per gallon," Braden said. "If we get into a more normal weather pattern with more rain, we may be able to shut off our pivots. I'm all about saving water, but economic sustainability doesn't allow you to save a ton of water now. The last three years have been so dry that saving 2 inches of water could cost you 30 bushels, and that's your profit."
The men use a cell-phone app to monitor, and now control, center pivots. They've also installed flow meters on all their wells. These are their two favorite pieces of technology.
"We've had PivoTrac for four or five years, and I absolutely love it," Brittan said. The basic PivoTrac program lets producers remotely monitor their pivots, delivering on/off and wet/dry pivot statuses to cell phones, pagers or computers.