March 11, 2009

26th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Very slow to warm up this spring. Still getting frost just about every night. The cows are about half done calving and it's gone very well so far. We turned the stallion in with the mares this morning so there should be some foals in about eleven months. My little goat kids are just over a month old now and are into all sorts of mischief. Don't mind their antics unless they get into my garden area...that leads to pot roast.

No Rant this time...haven't felt the need for a good rant since meeting a lovely lady named Tricia on the internet.

26th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”
(Available from

Settling In…

It was the middle of June. Within three months we would be harvesting our first crop. Many hours were spent looking over the machinery and making minor repairs..that is, repairs that didn't cost money. After cleaning up each machine and thoroughly inspecting it, we would hook it up to a tractor to see how it worked. The most complex machines were the binder and the threshing machine. I had never seen a binder in operation but had watched a thresher from a distance a time or two. There were no operators manuals and no one to answer my questions.

Betty and Lynne spent most of their time putting the house in order and tending the garden, which Aunt Georgina had planted while I was gone. The boys and I spent much of our time cleaning up the piles of junk in and around the farm buildings. Some of the buildings were so full of junk that they could not be used until cleaned up.

Dad had made some milking stanchions in the log barn while I was away, so we patched up the fence around the barn yard and made some repairs to the hog barn in preparation for our first livestock. We wanted to get a few chickens too, so we fixed up one of the small log buildings, near the house, as a chicken house. By fall we had one milk cow, a sow and about a dozen laying hens. Between the garden and the livestock, the farm was beginning to provide us with a little food! A feeling of security and self sufficiency was growing day by day.

I checked the grain crop at least once a day all summer long. I can still remember the thrill of seeing the first sprouts poke through the ground, in long straight parallel rows. Visions of golden fields of grain blowing in the wind at harvest time filled my mind, at least until the effects of many years of poor farming practices began to show up.

It soon became evident that the soil was polluted with weed seeds…wild oats in particular. Within a week the fields resembled lawns more than grain fields. Wild oats grew so thickly that they even choked themselves out, turning yellow in their competition for soil nutrients. Unusually wet weather compounded the problem. Within a month the grain was stunted beyond belief. It was a miserable looking crop. My visions of a bountiful harvest turned to worry and embarrassment.

To be continued next time…

Final Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?
(Available from

Water Usage:

American farmers suffered and failed during the 1930’s partly because they did not have the technology to reach the water supplies deep in the ground. With the advent of new irrigation technologies, that all changed. Not only did it make farming possible in the Dust Bowl area, it was the springboard to today’s highly productive industrial farms and feedlots in the plains.

The United States has been using an estimated four hundred and eight billion gallons of fresh water per day, for all purposes, since 1985. The two largest users are thermoelectric power and irrigation. Fresh ground-water withdrawals of eighty three billion gallons per day in 2000 were fourteen percent more than during 1985. Fresh surface-water withdrawals for 2000 were two hundred and sixty two billion gallons per day.

Agricultural irrigation accounts for about seventy percent of all water use. Water resources are being depleted at a rapid rate, with water tables falling world-wide. The shortage of potable water and agriculture water supplies now seriously affect more than a quarter of the world's population.

There is an urgent need to use irrigation water more efficiently. Water is a principal resource which has helped agriculture and society to prosper, and it has also been a major limiting factor when mismanaged.

Irrigation, the largest user of freshwater in the United States, consumed a total of a hundred and thirty seven billion gallons per day in 2000. Since 1950, irrigation has accounted for about sixty five percent of total water withdrawals, excluding those for thermoelectric power. Historically, more surface water than ground water has been used for irrigation. However, the percentage of total irrigation withdrawals from ground water has continued to increase, from twenty three percent in 1950 to forty two percent in 2000. Irrigated acreage more than doubled between 1950 and 1980, then gradually increased by nearly seven percent by the year 2000.

The Ogallala Aquifer, which irrigates at least one fifth of all U.S. cropland, is now experiencing declining water levels and deteriorating water quality. This water accounts for thirty percent of all groundwater used for irrigation in America. The crops grown with this water provide the Midwest cattle operations with enormous amounts of feed and account for forty percent of the feedlot beef output in the U.S.

The Ogallala ranges in thickness from less than one foot to thirteen hundred feet from one place to another. The average depth, however, is two hundred feet. It was formed over twenty million years ago. The formation process began when gravel and sand from the Rocky Mountains was eroded by rain and washed down stream. Those sediments soaked up water from rain and melted snow forming a sponge-like structure. Most of the water contained in the aquifer has been there for millions of years.

Nearly a third of the water used for irrigation in the U.S. comes from this High Plains Aquifer. This aquifer lies beneath about 175,000 square miles of eight states on the Great Plains. More than five trillion gallons of water are pumped from the aquifer each year. Ninety-five percent of that water is used for irrigation. Heavy pumping has caused dramatic declines in water-levels. The average decline throughout the aquifer since the advent of large-scale irrigation in the 1950s is about thirteen feet. Rates of recharge, the natural movement of water back into the aquifer, are less than an inch per year in most places. Because water is being removed at the rate of feet-per-year, the aquifer is, on the scale of human lifetimes, a non-renewable resource.

The past two years of significantly below-average precipitation in much of the High Plains, namely Kansas, has resulted in higher pumping levels and has worsened an already serious situation.

In California, an extensive water storage and transfer system has been developed which has allowed crop production to expand into very arid regions. In drought years, insufficient surface water supplies have prompted overdraft of groundwater, resulting in the intrusion of salt water, or permanent collapse of aquifers. Droughts, some lasting up to fifty years, occur periodically in California.

Irrigation is treated as a farmers panacea. In the late 1940's the combination of efficient deep-well pumps, low-cost energy, inexpensive aluminum piping, center-pivot sprinklers and other watering technologies, allowed farmers to overcome the lack of rain. Prior to the 40's and 50's, the water shortage was so severe that much of the land was deemed better suited to light cattle grazing than wheat production. By the 1960's, water was being pumped from hundreds of wells, at rates of one thousand cubic feet a minute, to water quarter sections of wheat, alfalfa, grain sorghum, and corn.

Although, in the beginning, farmers tapped into groundwater only as a last resort when the rains failed—and even then often applied the water when it was too late—by the 1960's irrigation was an integral part of the farming routine, primarily to guarantee big yields. Since that time, irrigators have been consuming aquifer water at a rate conservatively estimated to be ten times the rate of natural recharge.

Many people assume that large groundwater formations may temporarily run low, but will fill again when rainfall is plentiful—as do lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Actually this assumption is not even remotely true. Pumping the Ogallala is a one-time deal, unrepeatable and irreversible.
The withdrawal of this groundwater has greatly surpassed the aquifer’s rate of natural recharge. Some areas overlying the aquifer have already exhausted their underground supply as a source of irrigation. Other parts are fortunate to have more favorable saturated thickness and recharge rates, and so are less vulnerable. Consequently they are still pumping like there is no end to it.

Economic exhaustion occurs when the cost of a resource exceeds the net returns from its use. The economics of irrigation with ground water will likely be the determining factor in ending the wasteful use of this precious resource.

The irony of the situation is that vast amounts of this finite resource are used to grow crops which often only provide farmers marginal financial returns and are sufficient only to service their debts and meet fixed overhead costs. It is also significant to note that in situations of extreme distress, oil men and wealthy ranchers are buying up water rights in the rural areas of the Texas Panhandle, and are selling them to large Texas cities.

Half of the U.S. population and almost all of those in rural areas draw water from underground aquifers for their domestic needs. Many farmers absolutely depend on it for irrigation. Once thought an unlimited source of pure water, these sources are increasingly threatened. While toxic waste dumps, cesspools, landfills, and septic tanks contribute their share of wastes to groundwater, agricultural chemicals contribute the most in sheer volume and affect the greatest area. Excess nitrates from fertilizer and manure, can leach into ground water in high enough concentrations to make such water dangerous to drink.

Since the advancement of agricultural irrigation in the earlier part of the 20th century, the Ogallala has made it possible for such states as Nebraska and Kansas to produce large quantities of grain to be fed to livestock. Not only is that a poor use for grain, in my opinion, and thus an indirect waste of water, it aggravates the situation by creating a secondary demand for water. Cattle feedlots that run tens of thousands of cattle through their pens every year demand a minimum of eight to ten gallons of water per head per day. Today the plains are locked into high water consumption both to grow the grain and water the beef.

Our Faustian bargain with water usage is now coming due. Conservation of water now is vital to the wellbeing of future generations. It is extremely important that we find solutions to deal with the problems involved. As Ben Franklin said, “We know the value of water when the well runs dry.”

Author's Note:

For those readers who are looking for the test at the end of the book…Sorry…I lied! Why would you want another copy of this book anyway? If you really want to read more of my stuff, my autobiography, "Defying The Odds…", is available at most major book stores and specifically from PublishAmerica on the internet.

For those who care, my e-mail address is:

Thank you and eat well…

Floyd E. Ells
A concerned farmer.

I would like very much to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…Have a warm day…

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