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An abundance of Delta rain

The farmers who work the land also work the water — draining, flooding, putting it where it needs to be for their crops.

Brent Murphree, Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

May 8, 2019

2 Min Read
Delta Farm Press Staff Photo

I’ve never been one to utter the words, I hope it doesn’t rain. But, with the abundance of moisture we’ve had in the Delta since last October, I’m tempted.

I am a desert rat. I am part of a five generation Arizona family that farmed and ranched in the central part of that state since the early 1900s.

Most of the West is dependent on water delivery from either an aquifer or one of the rivers that run into the farming valleys from higher elevation.

As a child we would travel to the Midwest to see the part of our family that farmed there. Even as a six-year-old, the lack of defined water delivery systems made me nervous.

Although my parents told me the farmers in the Midwest received enough rain to water their crops, it didn’t sit easy with me.

In Arizona, we depended on miles and miles of irrigation ditches on our farm. Sometimes it didn’t rain for months. Average rain fall is 7 inches a year.

Because of this, I’ve always been fascinated by what water does to the environment — erosion, nourishment, destruction, replenishment.

It’s with this fascination for water that I came to the Delta, land that was formed by the largest river in North America. I love to watch the current of the Mississippi respond differently in different locations. I visit the inside of the levee regularly, watch water seeps during high water, walk the mud cracks during low water.

I also watch how people respond to the water. The ones who work the land also work the water — draining, flooding, putting it where it needs to be for their purposes of nourishing the crops.

I have been impressed as I’ve seen irrigation advances here over the past 20-plus years — center pivots, drip lines, poly pipe, meters. Even cover crops and crop rotation fall into what I consider advances in water efficiency.

Interest groups, that include producers, are currently looking at ways to ensure that aquafers in the Delta are managed to prevent depletion, as irrigation systems are dependent on ground water, something that wasn’t necessarily considered 20 years ago.

After working and now living in the Delta, I’m not as nervous about how water gets to the field. I know that foresight, as well as hindsight, is helping us to build greater water efficiency in this environment. The increased use of cover crops is helping us build biological structure in the soils, thus helping the regular crops to grow effectively. Controlled irrigation is managing what we put on and what comes off of our fields, including nutrients and soil. And, focused management of aquifers insures that water will be there when we need it.

I just wish the rainfall was more organized, so we could dry out a bit and get the next crop in the field.

About the Author(s)

Brent Murphree

Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

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