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No one has a greater stake in conserving water than those who depend on it for their livelihood, and Texas farmers and ranchers on the Panhandle and South Plains regions are no exception.

Four years ago, in response to declining water levels of the Ogallala Aquifer, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas launched the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) program in an effort to assist producers in addressing water quantity and quality concerns. The initiative has helped landowners improve irrigation systems and enhance the economic viability of cropland located above the aquifer. It also can offer opportunities to convert to non-irrigated production.

“The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative provides farmers and ranchers with technical assistance and financial assistance to support water and energy savings through proven conservation programs,” said Mark Hall, NRCS Farm Bill program specialist in Lubbock. “More producers in Texas are applying advanced irrigation water management technologies to monitor crop demand and prevent overwatering.”

Currently, over 151,000 acres are enrolled in the initiative for more than $23 million.

OAI is administered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Gruhlkey brothers, a young farming trio from Deaf Smith County, have built their operation to almost 2,000 acres. They recently obtained funding from the OAI to convert 100 acres from row water irrigation to a micro subsurface drip system.

Micro-subsurface drip irrigation system installed at Gruhlkey Farm in 2011 through NRCS' OAI.“The program provided the resources to help us install the best system for water use and efficiency. Our reward came at harvest with 240 bushel corn in one of driest years on record. In a normal year with 18 inches of rain, I might be able to save 20 percent on water use with this system,” said Braden Gruhlkey.

Through the combination of using low energy precision spray application on center pivot sprinklers and no-till and strip till methods, the Gruhlkeys’ have reduced evaporation, conserved soil moisture, maintained ground cover, prevented soil erosion, and improved air quality.

The Gruhlkey brothers produce corn, cotton, wheat, sorghum seed, and sorghum silage. Braden said they plan to install more drip irrigation systems, because drip irrigation offers them a tool to grow crops with less water and input costs.

With Texas currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, producers like the Gruhkeys are accelerating water savings of the Ogallala Aquifer.

For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center office today or visit the Texas NRCS web site