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A shift in climate means a shift in roles

Changing precipitation patterns are creating new opportunities for drainage contractors.


May 22, 2017
By Brandi Cowen

In recent months, my inbox has been flooded with new studies showing a changing climate will bring more precipitation, deposited by intense storms, in between long periods of dry conditions across much of North America.

This phenomenon has been on display recently in California, where a five-year long drought has made water-saving measures commonplace for farmers and urbanites alike. According to the state’s Department of Water Resources, 75 per cent of California was under severe drought conditions in November 2016. Fast-forward to March (the end of the six-month period during which California typically receives most of its precipitation for the year) and many of the state’s largest reservoirs had been replenished from historic or near historic lows thanks to extreme rainfalls during one of the wettest years on record. Although a number of reservoirs were at or even over capacity at press time, many areas remained in a state of drought and officials were warning more than one year of record-setting precipitation would be needed to replenish over-taxed water supplies. The situation prompted some reporters to label this as the state’s “wettest drought.”

Californians may need to get used to the contradiction, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team used a new technique that relies on large-scale patterns in atmospheric data to predict the frequency of local extreme rainfall events – defined as “within the top five percent of a region’s precipitation amounts in a particular season, over periods of almost three decades.” The team concluded that if average global temperatures rise 4 C by 2100, California would experience three additional extreme precipitation events per year compared to the current average.

The researchers also studied how that 4 C temperature rise might affect the American Midwest. Although these results were less clear cut, they showed yearly extreme precipitation events would likely decrease somewhat in a warming climate.

As precipitation patterns shift, producers will need tools to better manage the moisture in their fields, and contractors like you are perfectly positioned to offer solutions that provide water when a crop needs it and drainage when it doesn’t.

Drainage water recycling is one such solution. Two research sites – one in Minnesota and one in North Carolina – that capture excess water drained from fields and store it on-farm so it can be used to irrigate crops later in the growing season. Results so far show a yield advantage from irrigation, suggesting drainage water recycling systems could be a win-win for the farmers who reap long-term financial benefits from these systems and the drainage contractors who earn new business installing them.

In time, multi-purpose moisture management systems could become a necessity for farms to remain profitable – or even viable. Savvy farmers are sure to be planning ahead, thinking about what they can do now to ensure their operations survive future droughts and deluges, whenever they may strike. Our industry needs to make sure savvy contractors will be there to explain how we can help.

Whatever Mother Nature has in store for your area in the months ahead, I wish you a safe and prosperous summer.


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