Fine tuning crop irrigation in the Mid-South: Part I

Bubba Simmons was like many farmers across the Delta when it came to furrow irrigation: You lay out your flexible irrigation tubing, turn the pump on, punch holes in the side of the polypipe as it filled with water and wait.

Three years ago Simmons, who farms near Arcola in the south Mississippi Delta, began working with Jason Krutz, Extension irrigation specialist at Mississippi State University. Krutz introduced Simmons to PHAUCET and then to the Pipe Planner program.

“You can see that on the north part of my farm most of it is in square blocks, square 40-acre fields,” said Simmons, referring to a map. “After using polypipe for 25 years, I thought we knew how to pick out the right-size holes. What we found is you cannot out-guess these programs, either PHAUCET or Pipe Planner.”

PHAUCET is a software program developed by engineers with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service in Missouri. Pipe Planner is software developed by Delta Plastics, one of the principal suppliers of flexible irrigation tubing or polypipe.

In 2014, Delta Plastics offered to begin providing its proprietary software package to growers free of charge as part of its H2O Initiative, an effort aimed at helping reduce water usage in the five Mid-South states.

“We started on the far north end of our farm with some fields that we were having trouble irrigating,” said Simmons, who spoke at a Water Conservation Field Day that Monsanto sponsored at Simmons Planting Co. “I want to talk about some tips or some insights I have on these different components of the RISER (Row-crop Irrigation Science and Extension Research) program.”

Take-away message

Simmons said if there was one “take-away” message from the event at Simmons Planting Co., it would be to use the Pipe Planner software.

“We started with PHAUCET on a large-scale, on 100 percent of the farm three years ago and have transitioned to Pipe Planner,” he said. “The more time you put into gathering your data and fine-tuning it, the better results you’re going to get.”

More and more farmers are beginning to take the message being relayed by Simmons to heart. Registration figures from the Pipe Planner website show the software is being used on 212,000 acres or about 10 percent of the irrigated acres in the Mississippi Delta in 2015.

Simmons said he – and the neighbors he’s talked to – thought that if they had a square field, they could furrow irrigate it without any assistance. “That’s just not true,” he said. “You’re going to have significant savings of at least 20 percent, I believe, on those square fields with the software.

Downhill run

“When you look on the south end of our farm you will see some irregular-shaped fields, and on some of them the pipe runs downhill. Again, the more data you can collect that enables you to have the most precise information to add to Pipe Planner the better. You can’t outguess it, and you will save labor and money and ultimately you will save water.”

Another lesson Simmons has learned involves the size of the polypipe. He and his employees had been using 15-inch poly tubing work on every well on the farm.

“I don’t care if it was an 800-gallon-per-minute well or a 3,000-gallon-per-minute well, we were using 15-inch pipe,” he said. “We had a lot of trouble with the 3,000-gallon-per-minute well, and we blew up a lot of 15-inch transfer pipe with it. The first thing we did every morning was repair polytubing.”

Simmons now buys four different sizes of polytubing, selecting them for use on the farm based on recommendations he receives from Pipe Planner. “I think Pipe Planner goes on the flow, but you also need to consider the length of pipe, and when you have a long transfer you may need to look at a larger pipe to get your head pressure down.

“All this surge valve and moisture sensor information is good and fine, and I believe in it. But if you’re not using Pipe Planner, you’re leaving money on the table, you’re wasting water and you’re working yourself to death.”

For more on the Pipe Planner software, go to http://www.pipeplanner.com/

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