Tillage-Based Water Conservation on Farms in the Southeastern United States
Endale, Dinku M.
Schomberg, H. H.
Reeves, D. W.
Hook, James E.
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Conservation tillage, particularly no-till, has a significant role to play toward achieving agricultural water conservation goals envisaged in Georgia’s Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Planning Act of 2004. We base this on scientific evidence from across the country and our own research showing that conservation tillage allows substantially more of rain and/or irrigation water to infiltrate/percolate into the soil compared to conventional tillage methods, thus reducing much runoff waste. In one study spanning May 1, 1997 to May 5, 1998 near Watkinsville, GA, we found an extra 6.93 inches of rain water infiltrated into the soil profile in a no-till cotton/rye system compared to conventional tillage. This represents 14% of the average annual rainfall and is equivalent to more than 188 billion gallons of water from one million acres of cropland, which is about a third of Georgia’s harvested cropland. Annual irrigation use in Georgia fluctuates between 100 and 300 billion gallons. Additionally, conservation tillage reduces sediment that alters critical habitat and stream flow, and reduces non-point source contaminants that require additional assimilative capacity in those streams. While the current agricultural water conservation plan rightly targets potential waste in irrigated agriculture through retrofitting irrigation system components, conservation tillage offers water conservation both in irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture. For this potential to materialize, aggressive leadership that provides both political will and appropriate resources is needed across all government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in natural resource policy formulation, research, education, extension, and outreach
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