Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Montana farmer uses his technical skills to decrease water use from fluctuating river

Jeff Reed on his farm.
(Enterprise photo by Nate Howard)
A farmer with a technology background has come up with a way to reduce the amount of irrigation his farm needs. Jeff Reed was once the chief technology officer at Arrow Electronics, but these days he can be found raising organic alfalfa along the Yellowstone River in Montana. Water must be pumped up from the river to water his crops, but last year the river was briefly closed to fight a parasite infestation that killed thousands of fish. Researchers said low water in the river could have weakened the fish and made them more susceptible to the parasites. It got Reed to thinking about how much his farm depended on the river, which led him to think of ways to help his farm sip from it rather than guzzle.

"He installed high-tech sensors to monitor a variety of data, including — but not limited to —  rainfall and the moisture content of the soil, which, when tied in with his pump and irrigation system, allowed him to water only as needed, rather than turning his pivots on and allowing the water to flow all season," Liz Kearney reports for The Livingston Enterprise in Montana. The results were dramatic: He was able to run his farm with 30 percent less water this season (helped by a wet spring and early summer), and predicts he could make his farm use water up to 50 percent more efficiently in the future.

Reed also hopes to increase the nutrients in his farm's soil, thereby increasing the nutrients in his alfalfa. "If I can double the nutritional value, it’s like doubling the amount of my land," Reed told Kearney. "And land’s expensive."

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