Some farmers may take some good-natured ribbing for their “Chia Pet” soybeans this coming season, but hey, pulling 55 bushels off double-crop or late-planted soybeans ain't exactly a laughing matter.

The more commonly used name for the practice is hipper planting — soybeans are broadcast, then the field is hipped up and water run down the furrows. When the soybeans come up, they cover the whole bed, ala Chia Pet.

The system was one of several innovative practices that Arkansas Extension ag engineer Earl Vories discussed during the Arkansas Crop Management Conference in Little Rock recently.

Vories, at the Northeast Research and Extension Center at Keiser, Ark., says that whatever your choice of irrigation method — from hipper planting to drip — it won't do much good if you don't manage it and other aspects of your production program correctly.

“You need to pick the right cultivar, control weeds and put out the right fertility. And you can't have irrigation unless you have drainage.”

Vories also suggests using some type of irrigation scheduling program, to keep your irrigations timely. He suggested the Irrigation Scheduler provided by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Arkansas Extension records indicate that irrigation in the state has been on the rise since 1980. “Now we're irrigating almost everything we grow, all our rice, almost all our corn, 70 percent of our cotton and 60 percent of our soybeans.”

But Vories believes that Arkansas growers can do an even better job of irrigation. “For example, our average soybean yields are around 26 bushels an acre, even though over half the crop is irrigated.”

Vories believes that irrigation's biggest benefit should be to provide a more consistent yield for cotton producers, “which should help us to do our marketing better. But irrigation has to be part of an overall plan.”

So get those good management practices going. Then follow these tips for getting the most out of your irrigation system.

Center pivots

Growers often comment that center pivots aren't keeping up with the plant's water needs. Some growers have tried slowing down the pivot to compensate, but Vories pointed out that “water from the center pivot is still only going to soak about 6 to 8 inches into the soil.”

Vories noted that growers in other states “are running a fertilizer knife or a real small subsoiler to cut a slit in the furrow (or every other furrow to keep traffic rows open). “They're not subsoiling. What they do is cut a slot to hold the water there a little longer so that it has some time to infiltrate.”

Another suggestion is not starting the pivots at the same time every day. “If you start at 8 a.m., the next time, look at starting at 8 p.m., just so the pivot reaches different points during the day and night.”

This process assures that an application made on a certain part of the field during the day when evapotranspiration is high, is followed by an application on the same part of the field at night when evapotranspiration is low. “We're kind of equalizing the field with a temporal change.”

Furrow irrigation

Most surface systems in Arkansas and the Mid-South have moved to roll-out pipe, noted Vories. “But you have to use the right size pipe. It has to be big enough, but it can't be too big either.”

Extension recommends a 12-inch pipe for up to a 1,000 gpm well, a 15-inch pipe for 1,000 to 2,000 gpm, and an 18-inch pipe for over 2,000 gpm.

Vories says irrigating in sets is important for any crop, but especially cotton. “Most of our wells don't have the capacity to open up all the holes in the pipe and water everything at the same time.

“The duration of the sets should be in the 8- to 12-hour range, which will keep certain parts of the field from getting too wet.”

Another problem is getting rid of used rollout pipe. “If we start getting a lot of complaints, we're going to have to pay surcharges to get rid of it. It's going to be like getting rid of old tires.”

Hipper planting

Some alternative irrigation methods and practices are becoming more popular in Arkansas, including hipper planting, border irrigation, drip irrigation, and side inlet irrigation.

In hipper planting, “The grower will put up a loose bed, then come in with an air seeder and broadcast the soybean seed,” Vories said. “Then he'll run the hippers again to incorporate it. The bed will be a mix of loose soil and seeds. He'll run back over that with a roller to get it compact. From that point on, he'll furrow irrigate.”

The system can be used to water up soybeans in moisture-deficit situations, according to Vories. “Usually when you go with traditional furrow irrigation and planting, you end up rotting the soybeans when you do that. But this system seems to work pretty well.”

Vories said that one Arkansas grower yielded 55 bushels per acre on double-crop beans with the practice.

One word of caution however, according to Vories. “The last I heard is that hipper planting is not an approved practice for insurance purposes.

“Another variation on furrow irrigation is wide beds,” Vories said. “It's not so much a bed as it is a very narrow irrigation/drainage furrow, 5 to 6 inches wide.”

Border irrigation

Border irrigation is a relatively new method to the Mid-South which requires a precision-graded field (or nearly so). “You need almost no cross slope. Instead of putting in cross levees, you run levees with the slope. We put a small sheet of water down the field.

“It has a lot of promise. It's not taking a lot of land out of production. And there's less danger of flooding small beans. It works real well with no-till, but the field has to have the right shape to work.”

Drip irrigation

Benefits of drip irrigation include wiser use of limited water resources, Vories noted. “Drip allows the injection of fertilizer and other chemicals into the root zone, so we have a real efficient application system. It's worked in a lot of the arid areas, Texas, Arizona, Israel and other desert areas.

“But there's been more interest in humid areas and we're seeing a couple of systems going in Arkansas this year.”

Multiple inlet rice

Sometimes called side-inlet irrigation, this method uses roll out pipe to irrigate rice, “It doesn't have to be a precision-graded field and it works just as well on crooked levees that snake all through the field,” Vories said.

A big advantage is that you can flood a field more quickly with the system. “Usually you can't run a well full blast because you'll blow out the top levee. With this system you're putting water out over the whole field and you generally can run the pump wide open.

“You're also spreading out problems associated with carbonates in well water as well as cold water effects on rice.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.