Delta County, diversified vegetable and small livestock farm
- Invest in irrigation improvements
- We are focused on improving our irrigation system this year to include a higher-powered pump, new filtration system and an improved drip layout. These improvements will allow us to conserve water, money and time, as well as irrigate more efficiently.
- Remain flexible to adjust crop plan as needed
- Our small operation is nimble enough that we can adjust what we’re growing based on projected water and other inputs. We are not bound to a specific crop or a specific production goal.
- Consider purchasing additional off-farm livestock feed
- Our pasture is intentionally understocked, and we do not maintain a breeding program (i.e. no additional livestock will be introduced). We can investigate buying supplemental feed if we feel that pasture conditions will not support our current herd.
Our microclimate receives +/- 9″ annual precipitation, with high levels of variability. Precipitation is typically concentrated in snow rather than rain. As the impact of climate change worsens, and as the thousand-year drought in the American Southwest intensifies, it is only sensible to expect that our irrigation allotment will decrease in the coming years. It would be foolhardy to imagine that we’ll ever receive substantially more irrigation water than we have over the past five years.
Potential future conditions
The biggest challenge we face in our small operation is not water availability, but water accessibility. Our farm sits within a far larger commercial operation, and the archaic ditch and head gate system we work with often results in not receiving the water we ordered. These circumstances mean that we have to constantly– sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis– adjust the transport and flow of irrigation water across our property. We do not leave the farm during an irrigation run, because we cannot rely upon consistent flow rates. Managing this challenge, and focusing on the adaptability and quick thinking that this requires, creates a tricky environment whether or not we’re experiencing drought.
Strategies for increasing drought preparedness
- On an ongoing basis, our strategies for increasing drought preparedness include (but obviously are not limited to) the following:
- Learn to access, read and analyze weather station data, historical data and other climate-related resources
- Establish and improve communication with local producers and water/ag personnel
- Constantly monitor and improve on-farm water usage and efficiency
- Experiment with lower-water crops, specifically dry beans and grains.
Critical decision-making dates
- Irrigation share allotment released (mid to late May)
- Purchase, install, test and refine new irrigation improvements (June?)
- Conduct mid-season evaluation (late July/early August)
- Conduct end-of-season evaluation (end of October); complete season summary.
Strategies for managing during drought
- Pay attention to current and historical data
- By learning to read and analyze both current and historical data, we can better project weather variability and possible shortfalls.
- Constantly evaluate results; adapt as necessary
- Although we plan our entire irrigation season in mid-May based on our allotment, flexibility is key. We must constantly review both our results and the weather and determine if changes need to be implemented. As an example, we might move from a two-day run to a three-day run during the most extreme summer weather in July and August.
- Take notes and keep excellent records, and review frequently
- Keeping excellent records is essential for long-term success, so we can evaluate our successes and our challenges. It’s also important to review these records frequently to determine where and how we can improve our operation.
- Acknowledge that self-care is essential
- Even though stress levels might be high, especially during drought periods or other serious weather events, it’s important that we take excellent care of ourselves. This includes prioritizing the three key pillars: sleep, movement and nutrition. If we become sick, injured or generally rundown, managing our operation will become exponentially more difficult.