Farmers who irrigate crops with polytubing can save water, energy, and labor if they follow some simple steps to insure that they use the correct size pipe and that it’s properly configured for the field to be watered, says Chris DeClerk.
“As concern grows about the decline in the Delta’s alluvial aquifer and the need for sustainability of this critical agricultural resource, it becomes all the more important that we do everything we can to irrigate as efficiently as possible,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association.
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DeClerk, who is irrigation specialist for Delta Plastics at Little Rock, Ark., says in many areas of the Delta “every year we’re seeing increasing well depths and decreasing well yields.”
Use of polytubing for irrigation has been widely adopted, but growers often don’t get the most efficient use from it, he says. First off, it’s important to know the irrigation well’s flow rate. “If you don’t measure flow rate out of the well, you can’t accurately know which size polytubing you should use.
“A lot of farmers just automatically buy 15 inch, 10 mil pipe, because that’s what the farm has always used. But you can save substantial amounts of money just by using the proper size.
After that, DeClerk says,the size of holes punched in the tubing is important. “If you’re punching holes too big on the front end, and you continue punching the same size holes, you might be overwatering some areas of the field and underwatering others. Some of the crop might become oversaturated, while other parts won’t be getting enough water — and this can result in yield loss.”
Issues with incorrect use of polytubing, combined with ongoing concern about declining water resources, led to an initiative last year by Delta Plastics to develop a tool to enable growers to tailor piping to their specific needs.
Water-saving H20 Initiative
The PHAUCET (Pipe Hole And Universal Crown Evaluation Tool) program, designed by engineers with the National Resources Conservation Service in Missouri, has been used by many farmers for years to calculate existing irrigation system performance and define alternatives for improving irrigation efficiency, DeClerk says. “But our charge was to develop a more sophisticated, easier to use program that could be quickly adopted.”
Last August, Delta Plastics announced it H20 Initiative, aimed at reducing water usage in the Mississippi Delta by 20 percent by the year 2020. To do that, the company is making available — free of charge — its new Pipe Planner irrigation management software.
“We understand the significance of water to agriculture, and the importance of preserving it for future generations,” DeClerk says. “This program can help growers to achieve significant water savings, as well as energy, labor, and time savings.”
Among examples cited during his MSU presentation was a Mississippi producer who was able to reducing watering time on a 90 acre field from 48 hours to 32 hours. “By eliminating 12 hours of pumping, he saved $800 in propane costs,” DeClerk says. “But more importantly, he used 16 million fewer gallons of water.”
To use the Pipe Planner program, he says, “Two important pieces of information are needed: well flow rate and the elevation of the polytubing pad. Collect your data, use Pipe Planner to process your design, then get out in the field and punch the correct holes.
“Use of Pipe Planner can significantly reduce watering times and the labor and time spent in constantly checking pipe, cutting off wells, etc.”
Delta Plastics estimates average water savings of 25 percent to 50 percent, and an average 25 percent reduction in energy costs when using Pipe Planner.
The company has entered into public/private partnerships with Mississippi State University, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and other universities within the region, and is hosting educational forums for farmers, Extension agents, and private consultants on the implementation of Pipe Planner. Additionally, grower organizations and various public and private entities are supporting the effort.
“If every irrigated acre in the Delta used Pipe Planner, it could save trillions of gallons of water per year,” DeClerk says.