“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”

It’s a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but no matter who said it, the fact it points to is true: For many in America, water is a resource whose value isn’t always appreciated until the supply runs dry.

I still remember sitting in a meeting in my first year as an ag journalist with The Hutchinson News. I was just getting my feet wet with researching western Kansas' water issues. A veteran reporter stood up and declared water a boring topic that no one in Kansas cared about. 

I didn't like his comment because I've always been passionate about water and telling its story. But over the years, I've realized he was right. For most of us, when we turn on the water to brush our teeth or take a bath, we are confident it will always flow out. The countless meetings I sat through provided good conversation but not always action.

Today, the mindset is changing. 

Sheridan County farmer Mitchell Baalman and others in a parcel of Sheridan County realized their water supply was drying up. They weren't sure whether there would be enough water for the next generation. They took action. They formed a local conservation effort with irrigation cutbacks of nearly 20 percent. Now they are looking at broadening the 99-mile area.

They aren't the only ones. A farm family near Goodland is cutting back on water use. A dairy in Hamilton County is working on conservation efforts. And Tom Willis, who has a farm in Garden City, is implementing cutbacks while showcasing the latest technology.

They know we need water to live, run businesses and grow our cities. They know that without water, we couldn’t grow crops or feed the future 9 billion people who will roam our Earth. And in western Kansas, it’s water that fuels the agricultural economy.

A switch to dryland crops would mean less revenue, fewer populations working on the farm, fewer businesses supplying that population and even more depopulation of rural western Kansas.

Moreover, says Baalman, water could affect whether schools in rural communities stay open.

He noted that with dryland farming, a few farmers could combine and farm the entire county. 

"But that isn't what is right for the community," he said. "It takes all of us to make the community go. We need young men and young women to bring their families back here. That is why we need a good hospital, a good school, a good downtown."

In this issue of Kansas Agland, you'll learn more about Baalman and Willis' stories and the farmers who share his vision.

Yes, the mentality is changing because of progressive farmers like Baalman who are putting their feet outside the box.

Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel's agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at abickel@hutchnews.com or by calling (800) 766-3311, ext. 320.