Big payoff for irrigated corn

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Most Missouri corn farmers who irrigated their crops in 2002 enjoyed a substantial net gain from the practice, but irrigated soybeans paid off less well this growing season in comparison with beans that were not irrigated.

"Irrigated soybean was still a pretty tough thing to make a go of, but irrigated corn was a lot more profitable," said University of Missouri agricultural economist Ray Massey.

"With irrigation this year, we had a difference of 54 bushels per acre over dryland corn," Massey told producers at the Missouri Irrigation Conference. "The only years the difference was larger were 1999 and 1994. Our survey found there was a $36-per-acre net benefit in using irrigation in corn."

He noted that irrigated single-crop soybeans also showed "a significant difference" in yield over dryland beans: nearly 12 bushels per acre. But when the ownership costs of irrigation equipment are figured in, irrigators netted $7.69 per acre less than dryland soybean growers.

"If you already have that equipment on your place, you definitely want to use it," Massey said. "If you're in an investment situation, there are other things you have to consider."

Joe Henggeler, Extension irrigation specialist at MU Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo., said the statistic ignores the long-term benefit of irrigation. "One of the reasons for it was that the dryland yield was so good last year," he said. "When you're doing well on dryland, it makes the irrigation harder to justify."

He added: "The irrigation yield average over dryland over a 10-year timeline is very good."

Mary Sobba, regional Extension specialist in central Missouri, said the cost of nearly $11 per acre for irrigation equipment repair in 2002 "was the highest figure for repair costs I've seen."

Massey also observed that the income figures for irrigators who responded to the survey does not include government payments, "which is frequently what keeps farmers out of the red."

Forrest Rose is an Extension and ag information specialist with the University of Missouri.

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