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The following op-ed, submitted by Senator Gragert and I, appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on December 4.
Water is the lifeblood of Nebraska. It fuels our economy and sustains our quality of life.
Despite floods, droughts, pests and economic challenges, our valuable water resources and their effective management have made Nebraska a global leader in agriculture. In fact, we have more irrigated acres than any other state, including California.
Yet even as Nebraska has maintained its water resources, food and water insecurity is becoming an increasingly urgent global challenge. Almost 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night – making this both a quality of life and international security issue.
Closer to home, this year’s devastating floods across Nebraska are a powerful reminder of the importance of effective water management, particularly in the face of an unpredictable climate.
As the Appropriations Committee heard in a recent hearing on water research at our university, the people of our state are fortunate that our University of Nebraska is leading the way in developing solutions.
This year the university is celebrating 150 years of research and education. Since the beginning, the university has focused on water, agriculture and the management of critical resources. Researchers and students have a rich history of working closely with our farmers, ranchers and resource managers to develop new technology and find better ways of managing water to achieve maximum production, without over-using this precious resource.
We deepened our investment over a decade ago when a founding gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation helped create the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, a system-wide effort to bring the talents and expertise of faculty across the campuses to address the enormous challenge of achieving water and food security for our growing world.
In just 10 years, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute has developed a reputation as the go-to resource for water and agriculture productivity innovations. Senators heard just a few examples of the interconnected issues our university tackles on a daily basis, including drought, floods and other weather extremes; water and soil contamination; changing diets and demands for more water-intensive foods; economic disparities and conflict; and the infrastructure needed for sustainable agricultural production and effective water management.
We’re already seeing new innovations borne of partnerships between the university and farmers and ranchers. For example, many Nebraska farmers are now using drones to keep an eye on their fields and see the pockets of crops that need water. They use soil moisture probes that send data to satellites and accessed by smartphone. They have specialized meters attached to their wells, measuring the energy used to pump water for irrigation.
Our ranchers are also doing remarkable work with the university, implementing new practices for producing beef, chicken and dairy products that are served at Michelin star restaurants around the world – but with significantly less water than it took 25 years ago.
We have much to be proud of in our agricultural heritage, but Nebraska’s continued global leadership will require more work and more investment. All of us should have a goal to make certain families have dinner on the table every night. That’s a future we think we can achieve – through continued support of University of Nebraska research and with the engagement of Nebraskans who have made our agriculture and natural resources management so successful.
Senator Kate Bolz represents District 29. Senator Tim Gragert Represents District 40.