Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maybe the Most Important Harvest of All: Rainfall Harvesting in the Desert

The Farmer I Kiss spends a month or so each year harvesting cotton.  The other 11 months are spent harvesting something else.  Water.  Every drop of rainfall out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert is precious.  One of the problems with our rainfall is that it usually falls very fast from quick moving thunderstorms.  We seldom get slow storms that sit in and rain for a few days at a time.  So farmers have devised lots of different methods to capture every drop of these fast moving showers.

15 minutes after a fast, one inch rain, the contour rows are holding the water
The method we use is contour farming.  We have a series of terraces built throughout our farms.  These are small, continuous mounds that follow the elevation changes of the field.  Between these terraces, we make rows that follow the terraces early each season by using a plow called a lister.  This all works to even out the elevation changes and hold every precious drop of water that falls.  It also prevents wash out's from eroding away the top soil.  Holding top soil is every bit as important as holding the rain.
The same rows a week later and the cotton is, as Daniel puts it, "Growing like weeds!"
Another method that can be used is called diking.  This is an implement pulled behind the lister that creates small holes or dams within the rows.  This can catch even more rainfall.  The problem with dikes are that you can't run your tractor, harvester or a spray rig down the rows with the dikes.  If you have ever rode your bicycle over the railroad tracks, you will understand why!  So only a few of your rows can have the dikes in them.
Example of dikes from our friend's farm.  Notice how he only diked one row.
Over the next year, the Farmer I Kiss is developing a plan that will allow us to use these dikers in all but the two rows where he will run all the equipment: the tractor, harvester and spray rig.  I will keep you up to date on this plan.  It is very exciting and could greatly increase our water harvest, which we KNOW would increase our cotton harvest out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert.

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