“While we hope there will also be water conservation benefits, the main goal is to provide producers with a tool that will allow them to better time irrigation applications and to save energy by not pumping water when they don’t have to.”

Funding assistance from the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board will continue the project through March 2011 to allow beta testing of the program with producers.

“Dr. Sassenrath has identified soybean producers in the Delta who she and I will work with to test the tool and determine how easy it is for them to enter field data, how effective the tool is, and what may be missing that would make it work better,” Schmidt says.

While the tool is initially being used with soybeans, it will also be adapted to cotton and corn, with a possibility of later including rice.

There are a couple of tools of this type being used in Midwest states, she notes, but nothing for the humid South. “If it proves effective for Mississippi producers, we could then potentially expand it for use by growers in other southern states.

 “By next summer, we should have enough experience and input from the initial group of producers to decide whether to continue the project,” Schmidt says. “If it goes forward, we would hope to make it generally available for the 2012 crop season.”

Even though Mississippi receives high rainfall — in excess of 40 inches annually — over the past several years more water has been pumped from the alluvial aquifer than is being replenished, which has begun to deplete the aquifer.

If soil moisture isn’t sufficient during the growing season, crop yields and profits suffer. Weather-related risks have increased the use of irrigation in the Delta, which has resulted in an average decline in the alluvial aquifer of 300,000 acre feet per year over the past 10 years.

No readily available, accurate, easy to use irrigation scheduling tools have been developed and calibrated for the environmental conditions and crops in the area.