Kudos for Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for conducting their second 2012 Farm Bill field hearing in Wichita, KS last week. I can't stress how much help a well designed farm bill could be for water conservation efforts in water stressed areas.
Historically the farm bill has been blamed for promoting fencerow-to-fencerow corn production due to it's design and implementation, which of course, does little for curbing water use in irrigated ag areas. So, we were thinking that a farm bill that would promote less water intensive cropping choices - especially in water stressed or enhanced management areas - could conserve water at no additional program cost. This is apparently a very difficult thing to do, but we asked again, anyway.
We also asked for a crop insurance program that would insure limited irrigation operations. This would actually reduce liability and be less expensive than the current program. It'd allow irrigators to implement a water conserving, limited irrigation plan on land that had been fully irrigated, but also receive a critical level of crop insurance discounted proportionately with the expected yield goals of their limited irrigation plan. This could save a lot of water as well, so we asked for it.
We also asked that NRCS EQIP and AWEP programs support partial water use set asides - allowing producers to enroll the least efficient portions of their irrigation operations rather than the entire irrigated acreages. The water conservation would be the same, at reduced program costs, while returning a higher economic return for the producer.
These are just three ways that the current fam bill could reduce program costs while resulting in water conservation. We'd hope they'd only be offered in closed areas (where no new appropriations are being approved) and where the post program water use could be monitored enough to insure a true water savings. We'll see.