US: Nebraska looks to solve global food security by sharing its knowledge of irrigation

Can irrigation water technologies and management practices used by Nebraska farmers be part of the solution to the world’s water sustainability and food security issues?

Learning how to use those tools globally was one of several goals discussed Wednesday by leaders and partners of the University of Nebraska’s Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) at a reception sponsored by the institute, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and central Nebraska trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Ron Yoder, associate vice chancellor of UNL’s Institute of agriculture and Natural Resources, said Daugherty believes that UNL’s work to enhance Nebraska’s water sustainability and ag productivity could help solve problems in other places.

Nebraska’s reputation for irrigation water use and management innovations started with what Yoder called “the Nebraska miracle” as the ag economy emerged from a decade of drought in the 1930s. That’s when farmers began to tap the state’s vast Ogallala Aquifer for irrigation water and Nebraska innovators, including Daugherty, developed and manufactured the first pivot irrigation systems.

“We want to be the first choice in partnerships and work on innovative solutions for water and agriculture,” DWFI Executive Director Peter McCornick told.

Nebraska has the largest area of irrigated agriculture in the United States. “If it was a country, it would be 12th in the world,” McCornick said. “It’s larger than Egypt, with its Nile Delta.”

It also is a center of irrigation water management technologies that now include plant genetics that allow farmers to save water at the plant level, he said.

Closing the water-ag productivity gap in other places is a greater challenge. DWFI is working on water quantity issues in the Middle East and North Africa, and water quality issues in parts of Southeast Asia.

McCornick said a big question is how to translate the knowledge, experience and practices used by Nebraska farmers to the developing world’s small-scale farms.

He said that includes Africa, which cannot achieve food security without irrigation. One idea is community-managed center pivots that require cooperation by manufacturers, local governments and farmers.

Meanwhile, DWFI continues to support research and data gathering important to Nebraska farmers. That includes making more information accessible to farmers online using confidential formats, DWFI Program Coordinator Kate Gibson said.

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