In their natural condition, playas are covered by grassland; however, today many playas are farmed. Playas can be a blessing and a curse in farm fields. In dry years, the clay soils may retain more moisture, generating higher crop yields than in surrounding areas. But in wet years, playas fill and can drown the crops planted there. Farmers with playas in their fields must make important decisions every spring, to plant the playa and risk crop damage, or to avoid the playa making planting and harvesting harder and potentially losing revenue on two fronts.
From a wildlife perspective, playas in farmland can provide less food and roosting habitat than grassland counterparts. Although, many species of birds eat waste grain, they may spend more energy flying to deeper, wetter playas to roost.
Hydrologically, farming playas breaks up the important clay layer. Additional sediments are introduced when machines are driven through the playa and by erosion from heavy rains. The additional sediments can fill the playa, preventing water from pooling and reducing the capacity of the playa to recharge the Aquifer.
Playas may be farmed completely, partially, or just be surrounded by farmland but for this project we’re interested in identifying playas that any part of their basin has been farmed. Plow marks and, in some places, large center pivot irrigation circles are two main indicators to look for. The examples below show what to look for: 1) a playa in native rangeland (not farmed), 2) a playa surrounded by farmland but with a grass buffer around it (not farmed), 3) a partially farmed playa (farmed), and 4) a completely farmed playa (farmed).
1) Playa in Native Range/Grass (not farmed)
2) Grass-buffered Playa in Farmland (not farmed)
3) Partially Farmed Playa (farmed)
4) Completely Farmed Playa (farmed)