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Consider these practices to boost irrigation efficiency:
- Complete a pivot maintenance checklist. Routinely check and maintain all components of your irrigation system. Get a helpful checklist.
- Check sprinkler water distribution before you plant the crop. Place catch cans the length of the pivot and apply about 1/2 inch of water. Watch a demonstration.
- Try a soil-moisture sensor. Monitor soil moisture in the root zone with soil probes in different parts of the field. The University of Nebraska offers one such web-based tool called CropWater, which uses the Watermark sensor readings to estimate water use and availability for different soil types. The free program is at: http://go.unl.edu/aiz or http://go.unl.edu/hkg
- Work with an irrigation technology adviser. Find an adviser to help you evaluate what water efficiency technologies would make sense on your farm.
Remote pivot management systems like this one from Rite Control let growers monitor and control pivot operations from their desktop or mobile device.
Smart technology changes habits, and adds efficiency. Just ask Nebraska farmer Greg Greving, who admits that he, “always wanted to be first to irrigate.” Since he started using an interactive computer model to schedule irrigation, he now holds off watering beans in the early vegetative stage, saving water for grain fill.
Sophisticated irrigation management tools are helping growers make the best use of their water resources. Here’s a brief look at some of the ways irrigators are being smarter about water
Web-based irrigation scheduling
One advanced tool that can help decide when and how much water to apply is Web-based irrigation scheduling. Nebraska’s SoyWater, North Dakota’s NDAWN, and other interactive computer models generate customized irrigation recommendations based on soil type, local weather data, plant growth stage and daily crop water use.
Greg Peters, DeWitt, Neb., uses SoyWater to manage all his irrigated soybean fields. Since he’s been using the scheduling tool, he’s been able to cut one or two irrigation passes a season, per field, saving millions of gallons of water and significant fuel expense.
SoyWater is especially helpful to determine when to do the first irrigation of the season, says Mark Reiman, agronomist at Monsanto’s Water Utilization Learning Center, Gothenburg, Neb. There’s a temptation to start watering too early, particularly soybeans, he says.
SoyWater is also helpful at the end of the season, Greving says, when the goal is to dry down the soil as much as possible without causing yield loss, leaving room in the soil profile for winter and spring precipitation. He farms 3,200 irrigated acres near Chapman, Neb., with his sons Jeremy and Shane.
These programs require growers to enter rainfall and irrigation amounts for each field. Keeping current is a challenge for time-strapped farmers, says Justin Quandt, an Oakes, N.D., farmer who grows corn and soybeans with his father, uncles and brothers. They use North Dakota State University’s NDAWN scheduler.