There are about 2.1 million farms in the United States, and most of them lose money. To make a farm profitable, you need to have a plan.
Farmers like Lukens say it’s critical to find a market and build relationships with shops that will stock your product. It takes time and patience to do this well.
A huge, hidden underground lake spreads throughout the center of the U.S., supporting farming across the Great Plains and providing drinking water for millions, but the ongoing drought is threatening to dry it up.
The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the world’s largest, lying beneath the U.S. states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
Use of the aquifer for agricultural purposes started shortly after World War II. It makes up about 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S., while providing drinking water to over 80 percent of the people living across the Great Plains.
But the crucial water source is drying up. The situation mirrors that of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the Colorado River reservoirs in the West, which are at dire risk of drying up as drought grips the region amid climate change.
In the aquifers’ case, we can’t actually see its deterioration, and it’s only truly at risk if there is overextraction. Once it has gone, it would take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.
As of June, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska are all dealing with extreme drought conditions, which are worsening the situation.
Farmers in Texas—the state with the most farms in the U.S.—are also concerned. The state is already suffering from drought and as the aquifer continues to decline, crops are at risk.
A 2023 High Plains Underground Water Conservation District report showed that the Ogallala Aquifer’s levels have continued to drop over the past five years, according to the levels of 1,338 observation wells that tap into the groundwater.
Eric Simpson, a farm manager in Lubbock, to the northwest of Texas, told The Texas Tribune that the Ogallala is “propping” up all the farmers.
“No matter what, I’ll probably have to use water from it this summer because, without that, I don’t think we could grow much in West Texas unless it’s a cactus or a mesquite tree,” Simpson told the news outlet.
Farmers in Kansas are also worried.
Data collected from the Kansas Geological Survey in March this year showed that groundwater levels across the west and south-central Kansas declined by two feet last year.
After measuring 1,400 Ogallala wells, they found that there had been an overall decline of 1.89 feet in 2022.
Last year, Kansas saw one of the driest years on record. This lead to an increase in groundwater use due to the lack of rain.
And as drought conditions continue and climate change worsens, scientists fear this could be an ongoing trend.
Nebraska also saw an extremely dry summer last year, which led to an increase in pumping water from the aquifer.
In Chase County, the water levels have dropped by 100 feet since the 1950s, a report from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the Ogallala could be largely gone within the next century.
The Ogallala Aquifer fills naturally incredibly slowly. This means conservation efforts are ongoing to better protect the integral water source.
The main way to save the underwater lake is to restrict water use. A study from the USDA in 2020 showed that farmers may be able to use half the amount of water that they usually need to water their crops. But as drought worsens, this may be easier said than done.
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