Water is an increasingly scarce commodity in the west, and as more water is diverted from agricultural use to residential and industrial purposes, producers in the Great Basin are facing the challenge of sustaining the economic viability of their enterprise with less water.
Practices adopted by the producers may be an effective alternative to water management through policy change. Moving to alternative crops that use less water is one possibility.
By educating those individuals involved with relaying pertinent information to agricultural producers about alternative low water use crops and the associated decision-making tools that have been developed to facilitate implementation of lower water use crops, not only can the efficiency of resource utilization be improved but agricultural communities in the Great Basin can sustain their economic viability.
At the end of the program it is our goal that program participants will have increased knowledge and skills regarding sustainable agriculture, as well as an enhanced ability to effectively deliver knowledge and skills to agricultural producers. The following is an overview of expected program short, medium and long-term outcomes for program participants.
- Understanding of economic, political, and environmental benefits of reducing water use in agriculture
Understand the basic agronomics of alternative crops available to producers in the Great Basin
Understand the components of evaluating the economic feasibility of low water use crops
Ability to use the IRRIG-AID spreadsheet
- Create plan to introduce seminar curriculum and other SARE resources into producer programming
Work one-on-one with producers to evaluate the economic feasibility of alternative low water use crops on their farm/ranch
Provide an overview of the benefits of utilizing the IRRIG-AID spreadsheet tool and demonstrate its use to producers
- Assist agricultural producers in implementing low water use crops on their farm/ranch
Assist producers with the measurement of changes in water use and resulting environmental improvements such as water and soil quality
Assist producers with the measurement of changes in profitability and economic sustainability of alterative crop use
In the western United States, hydrological cycles have changed considerably in the last fifty years, due in a large part to anthropogenic intervention, and research predicts water supplies will reach a crisis stage (Barnett et al., 2008). As populations in western states increase, civil supply, recreation, hydropower generation, and other in-stream uses all increase competition for available supplies away from agricultural uses (Diaz and Anderson, 1995). Policies have been used in arid climates in the west to enforce water conservation on agricultural producers utilizing irrigation such as the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 in Arizona; these policies are not always effective (Wilson and Needham, 2006). Changes in water management are an alternative to imposing policy such as laws and taxes. Practices adopted by the producers themselves consist of reducing the amounts of water applied (deficit irrigation), changing the way the water is delivered, or switching to an alternative crop that uses less acre footage. By planting alternative crops, producers may reduce the amount of irrigation water they consume; this provides a way for producers to remain solvent in regions where water is scarce and they are under social pressure to reduce use (Gaur et al., 2008)
Barnett, T. P., Pierce, D. W., Hildago, H. G., Bonfils, C., Santer, B. D., Das, T., Bala, G., Wood, A. W., Nozawa, T., Mirin, A. A., Cayan, D. R. and Dettinger, M. D. (2008). Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the western United States. Science, 319, 1080-1083.
Diaz, H. F. and Anderson, C. A. (1995). Precipitation trends and water consumption related to population in the Southwestern United States – A reassessment. Water Resources Research, 31, 713-720.
Gaur, A., Biggs, T. W., Gumma, M. K., Parthasaradhi, G. and Turra, H. (2008). Water scarcity effects on equitable water distribution and land use in a major irrigation project-case study in India. Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering-Asce, 134, 26-35.
Wilson, P. N. and Needham, R. (2006). Groundwater conservation policy in agriculture. 26th Conference of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. Queensland, Australia.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The program was conducted through seminars including both informational sessions and a hands-on utilization of the program tools. All programming was conducted by an expert, either University of Nevada, Reno extension faculty or invited specialist. As people learn through a variety of methods such as by listening, seeing, writing, etc., in order to provide an enhanced learning experience for all participants, all the major learning methods must be covered. Hence, instructors introduce and explain a topic, provide an example and then ask participants to complete a writing or calculation exercise. The audience consisted of rural Extension educators, tribal staff, Department of Agriculture personnel, NRCS employees, county staff, conservation district staff, FSA personnel and other agribusiness professionals in Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Idaho actively working with agricultural producers. A peer review of curriculum was completed in March/April 2010. The curriculum was revised based on the two outside peer reviews and was sent to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension for publication number assignment and publication specialist’s edits in June 2010. Pilot Programming was completed with a group of 9 NRCS, UNCE extension educators, and FSA personnel in Reno, NV June 2, 2010. A number of comments/suggestions were made by the group, those were incorporated into programming.
A handbook of the curricula, a user manual for IRRIG-AID, and a CD containing the IRRIG-AID spreadsheet,copies of the powerpoint presentations for the five modules and a word document with links to all websites cited in the curricula and links to further assistance was published and distributed to all participating educators.
It was of importance to the program to conduct workshops at various locations throughout the Great Basin for maximum coverage.
Programming was completed for Southern Utah with a group of 15 USU extension educators, producers, agriculture servicers and NRCS personnel in Richfield, UT on February 23, 2011. This workshop was held in conjunction with the Diversified Agricultural Conference.
Programming was completed for Northern Utah with a group of 16 NRCS, USU extension educators, and FSA personnel in Logan, UT on March 1, 2011. This workshop was held in conjunction with the Utah Annual Extension Conference.
Programming was completed for Northern Nevada with 26 participants including NRCS, UNCE extension educators, tribal and FSA personnel. The program was conducted in person in Fallon, NV and by interactive video to Elko, Ely, Lovelock, Tonopah and Yerington NV on March 9, 2011.
Programming for Southern Nevada was conducted in conjunction with the Great Basin Women &amp; Youth in Agriculture Conference in Las Vegas, NV on June 15, 2011. The 12 participants included producers, extension educators and other agriculture servicers.
Programming was completed for Southern Idaho with a group of NRCS, FSA and UI extension educators in Twin Falls, ID on November 10, 2011.
Outreach and Publications
The Evaluating Alternative Low-Water-Use Crops for the Great Basin curriculum and the accompanying CD were distributed at conferences adnd workshops state-wide, regionally and nationally in addition to being mailed to extension educators and distributed at other events. During the course of the project we distributed all 1000 copies of the curriculum from the original printing run and had a reprint of an additional 250 copies done to continue distribution.
A Poster summarizing the program and our results was presented at the Women in Agriculture Educators National Conference in Memphis, TN, March 2012. There were 180 attendees who had the opportunity to view the results and take home a copy of the curriculum. A copy of the poster is uploaded below.
In August of 2012, I and Staci Emm taught an overview of the program and our results at a regional water meeting in New Mexico at WSARE’s request. There were 125 participants from USDA agencies, private business and Cooperative Extension that attended our session and received copies of the curriculum and CD. The New Mexico Western SARE Professional Development Programming coordinator stated that “The project that you and your collaborators produced and presented is truly an example of an outstanding Western SARE Project. We greatly appreciate you sharing your efforts with us.”
I presented the Evaluating Alternative Low-Water-Use Crops poster and distributed the curriculum at CABNR/NAES/UNCE Valley Road Field Day at the Agriculture Experiment Station and greenhouse complex in Reno, NV, September 2012. As a result of that outreach, I was approached by the agriculture teacher at the Academy for Arts Careers and Technology in Reno, NV. She wanted to utilize the Alternative Crops curriculum as part of her educational programming and asked if I would be willing to guest teach with emphasis on finances. I taught enterprise budgeting to three classes totaling 46 high school agricultural students in October of 2012 and worked with them to create budgets for vegetables, flowers, and eggs to assist them with deciding on profitable ventures for their program fundraising projects.
Of the 86 participants, 77 completed both pre and post evaluations. Ninety-seven percent of workshop attendees would attend future workshops on agricultural water management and/or alternative crops. On a scale of 1 to 5, the average rating for curriculum content was 3.84. The average increase in knowledge gained over all curriculum subjects was 44 percent. Asked if participants would recommend this course to others, participants rated this question at 4.32 on the same 1 to 5 scale. Detailed tables of the pre and post evaluation results are uploaded below.
Of those responding to the six month follow-up survey (n=23)
43% have introduced workshop curriculum and other SARE resources into producer programming
39% have worked one-on-one with producers to evaluate the economic feasibility of alternative low water use crops on their farm/ranch
35% assisted agricultural producers in implementing low water use crops on their farm/ranch
35% assisted producers with the measurement of changes in water use and resulting environmental improvements such as water and soil quality
35% assisted producers with the measurement of changes in profitability and economic sustainability of alternative crop use
82% have incorporated some of the material presented in the workshop into their operation/job
A more specific table is uploaded below.
The Evaluating Alternative Low-Water-Use Crops for the Great Basin curriculum was selected as a national communication award finalist for a bound book by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA).
Our evaluations, both the post-workshop evaluation and the six-month follow-up evaluation indicated several contributions to ag professional and producer understanding.
Qualitative comments by participants’ about programming efforts from workshops include:
“I am better prepared to answer questions from producers, and provide educational programs to help producers with water deficits.”
“I am more knowledgeable about alternative crops that may be planted instead of alfalfa in low water years and how they may fit into FSA programs.”
“The course helped me with crop selection and pricing.”
“As an extension outreach rep, I can take this valuable information home to local producers.”
“Alternative low H2O use crops will strongly be considered for my alfalfa operation”
"It helped me understand the requirements with marketing that I didn’t know anything about. It also brought low water use crops to the front of my mind."
"This workshop expanded my basic understanding of agricultural economics of low-water crops in Nevada."
“I can help to implement growing crops to use less water through pipes, sprinklers, and drip, depending on the crop”
"The information presented was good. I haven’t conducted programming in this area however. Southern Idaho has had ample water for the past 3 or 4 years and people quickly forget their water woes. However, I would bet in the next year or two I will have the opportunity to use this material to help producers evaluate alternative crops.”
"This workshop helped me to understand the subject better while assisting researchers on their project in this area."
"The workshop provided a good refresher for some topics and new information in others. I became more aware of resources and colleagues. As a result, I am better prepared to answer questions from producers, and provide educational programs to help producers with water deficits."
"Market and economic principles were good to learn. Our Dry Farmers are in need of developing a market for alternative crops. These markets need to be large markets, perhaps even Co-ops."
"It was a great introduction. Additional training would be helpful."
As part of the evaluation process, participants were asked:"Would you attend the future workshops on agricultural water management and/or alternative crops? If yes, what topics would you like to see covered?" Attendees stated they would like more specific examples such as case studies and test results of particular crops to be included. They would also like further education on high-altitude/short-season crops,dryland crops,niche and high-value crops,and a full course on water rights and laws to include both surface and ground water.