Energy costs fuel the discussions at Bootheel irrigation conference

PORTAGEVILLE, Mo. — Irrigation energy costs, and ways to manage them, will be highlighted at the 2006 Bootheel Irrigation Conference and Tradeshow, Dec. 13, at the University of Missouri Delta Center’s Rone Hall.

“With diesel prices staying high, more of our irrigators are looking at switching to electric systems,” said Joe Henggeler, an MU agricultural engineer and the conference’s planner. Recent MU research showed that a farmer applying 8 inches of water to a 130-acre corn field — a typical swath for a center-pivot irrigation system — spends almost $2,000 more per year for diesel power than for electric.

“The issue for farmers is do they have access to enough electricity to run their flood or pivot systems,” Henggeler said.

He expects interest in discussions of new phase converters, devices that allow high-power three-phase electrical motors — a necessity for most irrigation systems — to run on standard single-phase electrical service.

“Bringing three-phase electricity out to remote fields is expensive,” Henggeler said. The one-time cash outlay often is prohibitive, despite annual savings in water pumping costs. Many electric providers will provide single-phase over long distances for a minor fee.

“We’ll have a number of speakers and panel discussions on switching to electricity, as well as sessions on other irrigation management topics.”

The conference begins at 6:30 a.m. with free country-style breakfast.

The first sessions, beginning at 8 a.m., are about sub-irrigation, a relatively new, lower-cost method of draining and irrigating fields that has promise in certain areas. In sub-irrigation, plastic tiles are trenched into fields at specific intervals. During wet weather, the tiles drain off excess soil moisture. Pumps and a series of special floodwater gates are later used to push water back into tiles and hold it, irrigating crop root systems when soils are dry.

“Speakers will discuss a number of case studies on the subject and about how viable the method is throughout the Bootheel,” Henggeler said.

Another new technique, of special interest to rice growers, is the use of ground-penetrating radar to find sand blowouts beneath the soil surface.

“Rob Freeland, of the University of Tennessee, has been experimenting with this radar system to detect where these sand blows start,” Henggeler said. “We have thousands of fields throughout the region that have trouble holding flood-irrigation water because of these natural sand deposits.”

Once the stem of the sand blow, a feature usually no wider than a small room, is found, the sand can be dug up, replaced with clay and the field’s leak sealed off.

After a free lunch and tradeshow exhibition period, topics will switch to the merits and challenges of electric-powered irrigation systems. A panel discussion, including representatives from area electric utilities who will discuss supply issues, will start the afternoon sessions.

Following sessions include creators of electric phase converters and variable speed controllers for electrical pumps.

To register for the conference, call the MU Delta Center at (573) 379-5431, or browse to

The Web page also has directions and a listing of local hotels. Rone Hall is at the junction of state routes T and TT. From Portageville, Exit 32, go east on Highway 162 for 3.5 miles. Turn right on TT. Continue south two miles to Route T.

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