Archive for Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Farmers face water challenges

October 22, 2008

— John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas. These problems can be as numerous as the weeds in a spring field after a one-inch rain.

Like his counterparts across Kansas, these challenges range from too much moisture to not enough. They also include soil erosion from gulley washing rains. And as fewer and fewer farmers farm and more and more people inhabit our larger towns and cities, agriculture producers are feeling the squeeze from an unquenchable thirst for water for industrial and municipality use.

Water sources farmers and stockmen have relied on for decades are being eyed by neighboring communities. Lakes, streams, rivers and underground aquifers are all coming under urban radar.

Shogren has farmed in the Smoky Hill River valley for more than three decades. He and his son, Tracy, operate a family farming partnership. They run a diversified grain and livestock operation below the Kanopolis Reservoir.

One-third of their farmland is irrigated. This water comes from renewable water in the nearby Smoky Hill River and Sharp's Creek.

Two years ago, Shogren and his farming neighbors were blindsided by a proposal from the Kansas Water Office (KWO) to deviate from the standard water release schedule of Kanopolis Reservoir. This change would have impacted the way agricultural producers used water out of the river — specifically for irrigation.

As the McPherson County farmer tells the story, KWO was in the process of changing how Kannapolis Reservoir is routinely operated. This change would have impacted down steam water rights that had been issued by the state during the course of the past 50 years, Shogren and his farming neighbors scrambled to learn about Kansas water law and how it impacted them.

“During the last two years we've educated ourselves and worked with the Kansas Water Office to help them understand how vital water is for agriculture in our valley,” Shogren said.

They had the opportunity to lay out their case concerning the development of irrigation farming in the Smoky River Valley. The ag producers detailed the contributions they'd made to bolster local economies with added production from irrigated crops.

The McPherson County producers also explained the investment they'd made in their communities, not only financially but with their multi-generational family farming operations.

The farmers talked about the multiplier effect and how more dollars were infused into these economies because of the increase in sales of fertilizer, fuel, herbicides, seed, equipment and other agricultural inputs.

This group of interested producers is working to promote a long-term water supply for the Smoky River Valley.

Like most of his fellow farmers in the Smoky River Valley, Shogren is convinced Kansas has a “pretty good” set of water laws — laws designed to look after the best interests of all Kansans.

That doesn't mean such laws never have to be revisited or tweaked occasionally as water becomes more and more scarce, Shogren says.

Keeping that in mind, Shogren and his neighbors will remain vigilant concerning water usage in their part of Kansas. They'll also continue to serve on boards and keep each other up to speed.

Shogren has served on the McPherson County Conservation District board of supervisors. He's also been recently selected to serve on the state conservation committee. He also served on the Kansas Farm Bureau Natural Environmental Resources committee.

“We all understand the importance to watch out for our agricultural interest,” Shogren said. “We also want to learn more by attending meetings that impact our livelihood and share with others. We know water will always be important to our vocation of growing crops that provide food.”

— John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.

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