With the price of fuel recently approaching $3 per gallon in the US, farmers have found their livelihoods threatened by rising input costs cutting into already razor thin profit margins.
In October 2005, farmers suffered the highest real fuel prices on record, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. With the EIA projecting an average retail fuel price of $2.58 per gallon in 2006, up from an expected average of $2.45 in 2005, farmers at the mercy of spiraling fuel and agricultural costs are regaining financial control with chemigation and irrigation fertigation systems.
For years farmers have recognized the value of fertigation and chemigation to apply fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides to their fields through irrigation, and have sought out industry leaders like Agri-Inject, Inc (www.agri-inject.com) to supply them with high quality, dependable systems.
This resulted in increased control of agricultural product application and increased crop yields. Now to minimize agricultural input costs – including the soaring price of fuel brought on by foreign and domestic factors often beyond their control – demand, farmers are increasingly “piggybacking” on their irrigation systems to fertilize and treat fields in place of using fuel-hungry heavy farm machinery.
Farmers who have made the switch say that fertilizing via irrigation is effective insurance against rising fuel costs, and since they’re going to irrigate anyway, “Why not make the effort do double duty? With the cost of fuel, it’s really a no-brainer.”
Fertigation, in fact, can incorporate the fertilizer to the desired root depth without the use of fuel-burning application equipment or added labor. This is all the more significant as the average cost of all agricultural employees is expected to rise from $9.39 per hour in 2005 to $10.00 per hour in 2006. Fertilizer incorporation is achieved along with routine irrigation using precision-controlled Agri-Inject-type chemical metering pumps.
As a result, there are far fewer trips through the field with fertilizer or chemical application equipment, so there’s also less soil compaction. This, in turn, minimizes the need for chiseling, ripping, pulverizing, or deep plow operations to reduce soil compaction and create a uniform seedbed. Thus, fuel-hungry equipment is operated less, worn out and repaired less, with less labor to pay.
Chemigation via irrigation and Agri-Inject-type chemical metering pumps can also be a profitable alternative to aerial or ground application. Studies have shown that it can cost from 40 percent to 60 percent less annually than aerial or ground application depending on use and savings increase with use.
Based on university tests and field trials, chemical use can be dramatically reduced on some crops. For instance, chemical use was reduced from 40 percent to 5 percent on nitrogen, 50 percent to 20 percent on insecticides, and 20 percent to 5 percent on herbicides – without reducing yield.
While traditional fertilizer and chemical application gets costlier every year with spiraling fuel, labor, and input costs, the savings of irrigation fertigation systems accumulate every year after purchase. Quality chemical metering pumps used in irrigation can last ten or more years with proper maintenance. At a conventional application cost of $4 per acre, a chemigation system (estimated at $4,080) pays for itself in five applications. When the per acre cost is $4.50, it’s paid for in about three to four applications – while the investment in conventional application continues to climb.