For Elkhart County farmer, irrigation is a solution for sandy soil

Different methods of irrigation – the practice of applying controlled amounts of water onto agricultural crops – have been utilized for thousands of years.

Indiana Farm Bureau member Mike Morehouse’s farm in Elkhart County has been in his family since 1866, but the operation didn’t start its irrigation practices until 1984, when Morehouse installed a single center pivot irrigation rig. Morehouse said many of the farms in northern Indiana counties use irrigation in their farming practices, partly because the sandy soils in the region don’t hold moisture as well as ground in other areas of the state.

“We have a lot of sandy soils, and the aquifer off of Lake Michigan is in northern Indiana. That’s why irrigation is very prevalent in this area,” said Morehouse. “One reason we need irrigation is because we’d have a crop failure if we didn’t have water on it.”

Today, Morehouse’s farm is home to 17 center pivots used for irrigation. He grows corn, soybeans and seed corn with the help of the water from the Lake Michigan aquifer. Morehouse said there is a system of wells on his farm that tap into the aquifer for a constant supply of water during dry summer months.

The pumps apply water at 1,000 gallons a minute while moving in a slow circular motion. It takes several days of continuous operation to put 1 inch of water on a 240-acre field. During particularly dry years, the pivots have been known to run for six weeks straight. While that is a lot of water, Morehouse explained that he and other farmers in the area are not mining the natural resource.

“We’re not robbing the water. We’re just using it, and a lot of it goes right back into the ground. We have charts and graphs that are really astounding,” said Morehouse. “When the pivot comes on, it will show you how it changes the aquifer and how well we’re maintaining the water table. It fluctuates, but as soon as you shut the irrigation systems off, the water tables come right back to where they were when we started irrigating.”

Morehouse said corn tends to respond better to irrigation than soybeans. However, in a dry August, soybeans that receive irrigation will see around a 15-bushel improvement over those that did not.

When INFB contacted Morehouse to take part in the video series that highlights Hoosier farmers in the Farm Bureau Building at the Indiana State Fair, he said he was happy to explain what he does to other farmers and the general public.

“I wanted to make people aware of irrigation and the responsibility of protecting our groundwater rights in order to help produce food for America,” said Morehouse. “It’s part of what we have to continually do to make the public aware of what’s going on out here in the country.”