What is in this article?:
- More efficient irrigation can help reduce aquifer drawdown, save energy and time
- Irrigation scheduling tools
Proposals suggesting that 10 percent to 20 percent of existing irrigation wells in Mississippi could have meters put on them, and as early as 2015 that data could be provided to regulatory agencies for monitoring, have producers concerned that there will be restrictions on water use in the future, says Jason Krutz, associate Extension/research professor at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Miss.
JASON GRAFTON, from left, Madison, Miss. consultant; Tim Sanders, Tunica, Miss. consultant; Jason Krutz, associate Extension and research professor at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Miss.; and Angus Catchot, associate Extension professor of entomology and plant pathology, were among those attending the annual conference of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association. Grafton is the new president of the organization; Sanders is the outgoing president.
Irrigation scheduling tools
Producers need to know how many irrigation sets they make in a season, and have some way to keep track of that information, Krutz says. “It’s just part of basic management, and there are tools available to do this. They range from simple to complex; some are inexpensive or free, some are expensive.”
After discussing the issue with producers and consultants, he says, “We’ve developed a simple tool at Mississippi State University that can help with this.
“Basically, it’s a simple chart that’s available in three formats — one can go on a shop wall, one in a pickup truck, and one on the desktop. It makes it easy to keep up with when irrigations are initiated, and when they need to be continued; it’s just uncomplicated basic recordkeeping.”
In other areas of the U.S. where producers have used an irrigation scheduling tool, no matter which kind, they’ve had water savings of as much as 35 percent, compared to a neighbor not using a scheduling tool.
“That’s a huge savings in terms of the water we’re using now in Mississippi,” Krutz says.
In recent meetings, he says, “I’ve been talking growers about evapotranspiration values, how much water crops actually use, and ways to calculate this. Many of them have said, ‘Well, if there was something on the Web to do this, I think I would be more inclined to use it.’
“We’re moving in that direction, and before the crop season arrives, we hope to have something available. We’ll have an interactive map — click on your county, there’ll be a drop-down for cotton and soybeans, and you can see the ET value for your county for each week. If you know your soil capacity, and when you’ve had rain, you can easily calculate whether you need to irrigate.”
A tool that has been available for some time and is a proven water saver, Krutz says, is the PHAUCET program that was developed in Arkansas.
“With 80 percent of the Delta furrow irrigated, if we could get every acre on PHAUCET, that alone would pretty much make up for the existing aquifer overdraft of 300,000 acre feet per year.”
Simply using a more effective polypipe layout can result in water savings of 20 percent on regular-shaped fields, he says. “Additionally, we’ve seen a 20 percent to 25 percent savings on fuel and on time spent managing irrigation. Whether you’re using electricity, diesel, or gas, with today’s costs, think about putting that 20 percent to 25 percent savings in your pocket. With PHAUCET, you should be able to shave at least 25 percent off the time it takes you to get water across a field.”
On irregular-shaped fields, he says, the water savings from using PHAUCET can be even greater, as much as 30 percent to 50 percent, with additional savings on fuel and labor. “This is something we’re going to continue to push,” Krutz says.
Other studies this year will include evaluation of surge irrigation. “Literature from the western states indicates we might be able to cut water use by 50 percent on some soil types,” he says. “We haven’t done a lot of research on surge in Mississippi, and we want to see what kind of potential it may offer.
“I know one producer who has set up his entire farm on surge and PHAUCET, and has realized tremendous water and fuel savings. We’re going to look at surge on different soil types and different crops to determine if it could have potential for some of our producers.
“For the last few years, we’ve also been evaluating various in-field management practices to improve furrow irrigation,” Krutz says. “For the last couple of years, using furrow dike systems in both soybeans and cotton, we were able to apply 25 percent less water and still maintain yield potential.”