Drought again?

Dan Zimmerli

By Dan Zimmerli • Community Organizer and Outreach Coordinator

2022 and 2021 proved to be very dry seasons for most farmers in Minnesota. Depending on where you are, 2023 feels like it might be another dry year. It’s impossible to know for sure, but long-range models indicate that June will trend drier than normal for much of the state. With large portions of the state already hoping for rain, I thought I’d share my experiences from the past couple of years.

My family, staff and I grow produce southeast of Mankato. We were able to adapt and adjust pretty quickly to the dry conditions of the past couple of years and we’ve learned a few things. We farm on three acres, and while we didn’t have the equipment or well to water all three, we did have some irrigation equipment in the form of overhead sprinklers and drip irrigation. We had enough equipment to water the most valuable crops on our farm where we measured value in terms of dollars/square foot. Since the total area we could irrigate was the limiting factor it made sense to target the irrigation we were doing to the highest value crops. For us that meant crops like carrots, beets, and lettuce. We decided not to irrigate crops like potatoes, sweet corn, and winter squash just due to the large area they take up.

Eventually, we decided to add drip tape to some of our field crops after it was clear it was going to be a very dry year. We targeted our drip tape to crops that were going to be in place for a long period of time. For us, that meant we added drip to our field tomatoes & peppers, as well as cucumbers and melons. We also got really jealous of folks who have systems to lay down drip tape and plastic in one pass. Laying the drip tape was labor intensive since we were doing it manually. We also don’t love the disposable nature of drip tape.

Getting some crops to germinate in those years was a challenge. Beets and carrots were particularly difficult, and they’re two of our top crops in total sales. We needed to irrigate them as soon as we planted them, and then either keep irrigating them or cover them in order to ensure good germination.

Drought years have at least one big advantage for small scale producers: the reduced weed pressure. Drought years are a good opportunity to make sure no weeds go to seed on your farm, which will in turn help reduce your weed seed bank.

Need help getting started with irrigation? Drop me a line at dan@sfa-mn.org and I’ll do what I can to help you get started.

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