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Nature has immense value to people around the globe – from flood protection to food production to economic security. The health of agricultural fields depends on the quality of the soil and the amount and quality of fresh water available. Agriculture in the Lower Flint River Basin uses a lot of water. Partnering with farmers has become vitally important to water conservation efforts in Georgia. For more than a decade, The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with local farmers, university researchers and conservation agencies to build a powerful partnership. The goal: move innovative water conservation practices from the research laboratory to the working farm.

These new irrigation and farming practices fall into three categories:

  1. Mechanical Retrofits – Irrigation systems are outfitted with new nozzles that spray water in rain – droplets fall closer to the ground and at a lower pressure so that less water is lost to evaporation and wind drift. High-powered “endguns” that spray water on the edges of a field are fitted with controls that shut them off over non-planted areas like roads.
  2. Technological Innovation – Fields often contain areas that can’t grow crops – like rock outcroppings or wetlands - but most irrigation systems spray water over the entire field, regardless. Variable rate irrigation (VRI) allows a farmer to refine irrigation patterns through GPS-based software, removing non-crop areas from irrigation. In addition, data such as temperature and soil moisture is transmitted from sensors in the field. Farmers can access this information from any computer or smartphone and make changes to their irrigation plans in real-time, saving water and alleviating time-consuming travel to the field.
  3. Farming Methods – The type of crop that is planted and planting cycles can have a substantial impact on water use. For example, leaving plant residue in the field can improve root structure and water-holding capacity. Also, farmers often rotate what they grow in a field year after year to preserve soil health. Research now shows that adding specific plants such as warm season perennial grasses to the rotation improves the soil over time. Fields can be more productive and crops require less water.

In combination, these practices are yielding almost unbelievable results – reducing annual water use in a dry year by an estimated 15 billion gallons of water.

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