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Cropland across the United States

One of the advantages of working remotely is your ability to travel if needed. I reside outside of Atlanta, GA but as you know from my last blog, I was raised on a farm in western Kentucky. A few weeks ago, I was needed to assist in the upkeep of the farm while my father was hospitalized. Our farm is mostly dedicated to livestock, part hobby, and part feeding our families. While working, my curious nieces and nephews asked about my job. Needless to say, staring at farmland in Idaho via satellite didn’t appeal to them. However, taking trips around the world through Google Earth was very intriguing. We went to the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, The Great Pyramid, and finally, we landed at home in Kentucky. We viewed the farm, their houses and looked for the cattle. As I was moving around Kentucky on Google Earth, I observed just how different the geography is between Idaho and the southeastern United States. This includes not just the mountains and the terrain of both regions, but the patterns and colors of the fields, as well as the way land is parceled.

Farmland in Western Kentucky via Google Earth. Satellite imagery from 9/2019

Farmland in Eastern Idaho via Google Earth. Satellite imagery from 09/2015 and 06/2017

While studying irrigation types and their changes over time in Idaho, it occurred to me that I have no idea how cropland is irrigated in Kentucky. There are “crop circles” in the satellite imagery from the southeast, and there are also not many standard rectangular fields. Driving the country roads, I have passed acres of tobacco, corn, soybeans, and hay, but I had never seen a sprinkler system on cropland. I contemplated this while looking over my parents’ large pond outside their backyard, one of 3 ponds on their property, which also includes a creek with varying flows depending on rainfall.


At our farm in Kentucky, the rain gauge on the fence line reads 1 ½ inches from yesterday and there is a chance of rain 3 days this week. When your expertise lies in the West and Northwest due to attending university at Oregon State and an internship in Idaho, you focus on how you can improve irrigation practices, water consumption, and how water rights impact water availability. You often forget there are parts of the world where crops are naturally irrigated.

A quick search of irrigation practices in Kentucky left me with very little information besides approximately >10% of cropland is groundwater irrigated. This is so different from my searches of Idaho irrigation practices. There is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips on how to best utilize the water in your state and many of the water publications from Eastern Idaho are attached to the Henry’s Fork Foundation, whether the studies were conducted by the Foundation, Rob Van Kirk provided a hydrological analysis, or collaborative efforts involving HFF were included. Being part of this process, if even for a summer, has given me great pride in knowing that my small part of my project could impact water use and availability for years to come.

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