Across the Mid-South, much of the farmland is irrigated the same way and Jason Krutz isn’t terribly impressed.
“It’s really kind of Stone Age,” said the Mississippi State University irrigation specialist at the 2014 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. “I was asked by MSU to make our farmers better furrow irrigators because that’s how 80 percent of Mississippi’s acreage gets water. Arkansas has more pivots along with Louisiana.
“However, since so many furrow irrigate, that’ll be my primary topic.”
Mid-South producers have three tools that will allow for better furrow irrigation. “There is potential for you to redeem irrigation capacity, potentially use less water – which means using less diesel – and maybe cut better yields.”
The programs take into account things that affect pressure polypipe and dimensions of a field so water will hit the tail ditch at the same time. The information needed includes things like flow-rate of the well, the slope of the land and the actual dimensions of the field.
“Put those into the computer program and it’ll provide what size hole needs to be punched down the pipe.”
When MSU researchers tested this, “they did so over three years in multiple locations. On a regularly shaped field, the computer program usually means using 20 percent less water and takes 20 percent less time for the water to get across…
“By sitting down with us for about 30 minutes -- the amount of time it usually takes to teach a producer how to use PHAUCET -- it can save you between $10 and $25 per acre. There are consultants and private sector folks that will set your farm up on PHAUCET for about $8 per acre.”
Delta Plastics’ Pipe Planner does the same thing as PHAUCET, said Krutz. “The difference is the interface is more user-friendly and there’s a fee associated with it.
“The fees make a lot of people flinch. But think about it. On a regular-shaped field, you’ll save about $10 per acre. So, if you pay someone $8 to set it up, you’re still $2 ahead. Then, the following year, you get the whole $10 in savings. The more irregular-shaped fields mean even more savings.”
Surge valves, timing
- Surge valves.
Surge valves are supposed to tackle the two problems that interfere with irrigation application efficiency.
“The first problem is tail-water runoff. The surge valves can be dialed in so they’ll oscillate back-and-forth on the field and eliminate tail-water runoff.
“The other thing the surge valves help with are things we can’t see but know are there. Maybe the top part of a field gets oversaturated causing a yield drag. The way the valves work is they try to reduce deep percolation losses…
“If you’re dealing with a Dundee silt loam-type soil and see the water scooting across the top and think you’re not getting good penetration, you’re right. If we can get water penetration using the surge valves, there’s probably quite a bit of yield out there to be gained.”
- Proper timing.
During the winter meeting season, Krutz has spoken with hundreds of Mid-South producers about how they’re irrigating crops. He’s found that most “use a schedule that says ‘pull the trigger about every Monday.’ I bet the number folks going out and probing soils is less than 1 or 2 percent.”
As for the three tools, “that’s it. Those are the only tools available to make yourself a better furrow irrigator.”
As for deploying sensors, Krutz said they try to “determine when you get to 50 percent of the water that’s being held in the rooting zone. If you go past that, you’re setting yourself up for yield loss associated with drought stress. You can’t tell that by just irrigating every Monday. You can’t tell that driving by on the turn-row.”
However, “a sensor is designed to detect when you get close to that value. When should you turn the well on? When you get close to that 50 percent -- and I don’t care what growth stage you’re at.”
Krutz pointed out that Mississippi corn farmers are permitted 18 inches of well water annually. “The kicker is we’re in a voluntary metering program. They’re slapping meters on and turning information into a regulatory agency. I can assure you that when we irrigate corn in Mississippi, we go over 18 inches a lot.
“I’m not a prophet and don’t know what will happen in the future. But I see a dilemma quickly approaching. I keep driving this home to producers and I know it sounds radical, sounds like it isn’t true. But look at what’s happened out West. We’re going to have to become more conservative and manage our water resources better.”