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Winter planning allows good irrigation changes
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The downtime of winter is the perfect time to put into place three tools to make irrigation more efficient in the growing season.
Jason Krutz, irrigation specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said now is the time to implement a computerized hole selection tool and install soil moisture sensors and surge valves.
“If producers are furrow irrigating, they need to set up every acre with some sort of computerized hole selection tool, whether PHAUCET or some other software,” Krutz said. “The other things they need to use in order to be better irrigators are soil moisture sensors and surge valves.”
Computerized hole selection tools specify the size of hole that should be punched in polypipe irrigation to allow the correct amount of water to flow down each furrow. Soil moisture sensors read the actual level of moisture in the soil at various depths, and surge valves are computer driven to control the rate and timing of water applied to fields.
“There are only so many techniques we can use to increase irrigation efficiency, but if you put these tools into place, they should pay for themselves in the first year alone by reducing water use by up to 55 percent,” he said. “You need to get these things out in the fields so you can see what they can do for you.”
Krutz, who works with the Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station out of the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said about 70 percent of the Mississippi Delta farmland is irrigated. Less than 10 percent used computerized hole selection for irrigation in the 2013 growing season.
“I hope we can get over 15 percent this year,” he said. “People who track technology say that if you can hit 15 percent adoption and it works, the technology will take over.”
Winter is the perfect time to install the irrigation software for computerized hole selection. Krutz said producers must know general information on flow rates of wells, soil types and elevation changes where the polypipe is laying. The computer software uses this information to plan proper water flow down the rows.
The result is a significant financial savings.
“If you don’t use these tools, evidently you don’t like making money,” Krutz said.
Bubba Simmons, a partner in Simmons Planting Co. in Hollandale, has about 6,000 acres of corn, soybeans and rice in Washington County.
“The reason we first took a look at irrigation efficiency tools was because of our awareness of the declining aquifer and the need to conserve water,” Simmons said. “In setting up our first couple of fields, we found it was going to be a water saver, but it also saves us in electricity or diesel and perhaps labor.”
Simmons said once the effort was invested on the front end to get the irrigation system operational, irrigating was much easier and required significantly less management than before. Implementation cost was low, he said, but there was steep learning curve with the new system.
“Although I had attempted to do this before on my own, I was successful last year with the help of the Extension Service, and we quickly adopted the practices on every field we use polypipe on,” Simmons said. “Once you become familiar with the program, each field after that is easier and easier.”
Simmons said he saw immediate benefits from the new system.
“I decided I didn’t want to water a field without using these tools,” he said.
The Extension Service has joined with the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board to offer three irrigation efficiency meetings in the Delta in February. Sessions will help producers learn about the new technology available and see how using it can decrease irrigation costs and increase efficiency.
Meetings will be held Feb. 10 in Tunica, Feb. 12 in Greenwood and Feb. 26 in Stoneville. Contact your local Extension office for details.