The water monitor
When Roric Paulman came back to the farm south of Sutherland more than 30 years ago, he assembled a team to help him resurrect an operation that had just gone through bankruptcy and the sudden death of his father. “I was 27. I didn’t know enough about farming at the time, so I pulled together a team that included an attorney, accountant and bankers to see where I stood. I also sat down with our original landlords.”
He’s relying on that same partnership approach today on his 7,000-acre operation to examine every aspect of water consumption and to demonstrate the latest in irrigation water and soil monitoring tools, precision farming equipment and new seed technologies.
At a glance
• Sutherland producer turns operation into demo farm.
• He will measure water use on irrigated and dryland acres.
• He also wants to showcase latest in irrigation technology.
In 2011, Paulman turned the farm into a demonstration farm and worked with agronomists; companies like Monsanto, John Deere and Valley; University of Nebraska specialists; natural resources districts; and others. He calls the project “Producer Driven Outcomes.”
He hosted about 100 people on the farm for a field day this summer.
Paulman is a member of the year-old Nebraska Water Balance Alliance and is passionate about using water efficiently and taking advantage of the water available to him in both irrigation and dryland situations. He’s also frustrated with certain aspects of state and local water management that focus on offsets and irrigation retirement programs, which he believes adversely affect local economies.
Referring to his demonstration farm, Paulman says, “I want to be part of a solution that emphasizes positive outcomes. We are a resource-laden state, but we can’t agree how to use our water sustainably in a beneficial way. Too often, it’s a turf-battle mentality. We can’t get into the same sandbox and play together.”
The alliance didn’t drive the project, he says. It was his idea.
Paulman’s major goal is to measure both the water use and consumption in his irrigated fields and dryland acres — and even pastures and Conservation Reserve Program ground — and relate that water use to the new technologies he’s adopted.
The farm’s 7,000 acres of owned and rented crop ground are mostly irrigated, with limited dryland acres, most of which are in pivot corners. He relies on various rotations with corn, popcorn, wheat, soybeans and dry edible beans.
The tools employed are many. There are four weather stations on the farm to collect temperature, wind, humidity and solar radiation, with rain gauges and evapotranspiration gauges at each station. “On-farm weather is a tremendous management tool for us,” he says.
On each of the more than 40 pivot-irrigated circles, he has at least one soil moisture probe, sometimes more. Moisture probes also have been installed in native grass and CRP fields to measure consumptive use. In total, more than 70 probes, including capacitance probes and Watermark sensors, are on the farm. In most cases, the data can be retrieved on a smartphone or is available on his office computer. “It essentially takes only a quick glance at the graphs on each pivot to see moisture status,” he says.
All Paulman Farms’ wells have had their output certified with ultrasonic flow meters.Six pivots are equipped to vary water through speed control, and another is an elaborate zone-control setup that can vary water in hundreds of zones.
Other practices include fertigation, variable-rate nitrogen, no-till and strip till. He also has grown some of the newer drought-tolerant corn hybrids.
This article published in the November, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.