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Organic Dryland Farming a Water Solution for Drought States - Fred Kirschenmann

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October 8, 2012

Organic Dryland Farming a Water Solution for Drought States

Interview with Organic Dryland Farming Expert Fred Kirschenmann, PhD

Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water, October 8, 2012 Sponsored by Nature's Tears® EyeMist®

Lower annual rainfall amounts and the depletion of ancient underground aquifers as a result of excessive crop irrigation are facts of life for farmers in many drought states of the American Western and Midwest (and more recently, the South). This has been a looming crisis for decades for agricultural producers, long before global climate change became a widespread concern. One promising solution is the application of scientific discoveries that enable farmers to grow larger and better crops with less water. This is called "dryland farming." Dr. Fred Kirschenmann is a leading expert on organic dryland farming.

A Professor of Agriculture at Iowa State University, Dr. Kirschenmann also operates a large family farm in North Dakota, which he has dedicated to entirely to dryland farming, mostly of wheat, the major crop in the upper Great Plains. Dr. Kirschenmann was interviewed by Sharon Kleyne on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water syndicated radio show on October 8, 2012, sponsored by Nature's Tears® EyeMist®. The subject of organic dryland farming fits the show's themes of water, health and the environment.

According to Dr. Kirschenmann, 70% of water in the United States is used for agriculture. The four main US crops are corn, wheat, soy and rice. Of these, rice requires by far the most water. Dr. Kirschenmann explained that soil tends to dry out and that even where water is plentiful, good moisture retention in the soil, and good microbial soil health, benefits crop production and quality.

Dr..Kirschenmann was adamant that even for farmers who don't practice full-scale organic dryland farming, employing some of his methods will improve soil health and crop yield and produce more crops with less water. Sharon Kleyne observed that in this age of widespread draught, water shortages and water disputes, we can't afford not to take any measures possible to conserve water.

The key to water retention is the organic components in the soil (i.e., microbes and plant and animal waste). According to Dr. Kirschenmannn, soil that contains 1% organic material can hold 33 pounds of water per cubic yard. Soil with 5% organic material can hold 195 pounds of water per cubic yard. On average, agricultural soil in the US contains 2.2% organic material. With good farming methods this could be pushed to 6.5%.

This can be compared to the difference between mulch, which almost always remains moist, and sand, which dries out very quickly.

Dr. Kirschenmann advocated what he calls the "Law of Return," which means that in a farming operation, all organic waste material is returned to the soil. Currently, in North Dakota, hay is alternated with corn and beans. Dr. Kirschenmann recommended that commercial crops be alternated with perennial native grasses to increase organic content.

Sharon Kleyne pointed out that for centuries, the ancient Anasazi tribes in the American Southwest successfully practiced dryland farming without irrigation in semi-desert areas. It was increasing drought, however, that eventually led to their disappearance.

Dr. Kirschenmann's farm is not 100% organic in that he does use commercial fertilizers. He does not irrigate, however (in a region of very little annual rainfall - most other farmers in the region irrigate extensively with water pumped from deep underground aquifers). He also breeds crop plants to be draught resistant, which can be a problem because pollen from his neighbor's less drought resistant crops tends to drift onto his land. He employs buffers around his property to minimize this.

Sharon Kleyne observed that humans are not conquerors of the biotic community, they are merely members of that community. She noted that the nutrient value of a crop depends on the health of the soil and that the plant's ability to benefit from the soil depends on water. According to Dr. Kirschenmann, sources of phosphate and potash, used in fertilizer, are being depleted and farmers may one day no longer be able to rely on these inorganic products to assure healthy soils or nutritious plants.

The Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water is broadcast live on Mondays, 10 a.m., PST/PDT. The syndicated radio talk show is heard on Voice America/World Talk Radio, Green Talk Network and Apple iTunes. Go to for written summaries and on-demand podcast replays of al shows, including the October 1, 2012 interview with Bill Deane.

The Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water is sponsored by Nature's Tears® EyeMist® - all natural 100% water mist to instantly and conveniently sooth dry, dehydrated, tired and irritated eyes.

© 2012 Bio-Logic Aqua Research (137).