Improving irrigation efficiency without compromising yields is the goal of a new research initiative currently underway in Kansas.
Established as part of the Long-Term Vision for the Future of Water Supply in Kansas (Water Vision), three demonstration farms are providing researchers with an opportunity to study different kinds of irrigation technology on a farm-sized scale.
Zimmatic dealer American Irrigation in Garden City, Kansas is actively involved in the Water Technology Farm that is located in Finney County.
“We are working closely with the landowner, the Garden City Company, and the grower, Dwane Roth,” said Rod Stillwell of American Irrigation. “We are testing several available products on the same Zimmatic pivot, using different spans for different options, so that we have the same soil types, crop variety, water quality, fertilizer and chemicals, GPA applied and a more equal growing environment.”
Among the technologies integrated into the farm’s irrigation system is FieldNET® by Lindsay Pivot Control, a remote management tool that gives the grower the ability to monitor and control the system from a smartphone, tablet or computer. Stillwell’s team also installed a Growsmart® Magnetic Flow Meter to provide flow rate and water usage, and a weather station that sends data directly to the FieldNET network.
“The technology delivers real time information and enhanced management tools,” Stillwell said. “It also provides up-to-the-minute alerts via text message or email – immediately notifying the grower if there are any performance issues.”
Stillwell said they also are testing two types of Bubbler nozzles, both manufactured by Senninger Irrigation, Inc. – the LDN UP3 Bubbler Pad and the LDN UP3 Shroud.
The Bubbler Pad deposits the water directly below the nozzle between each row of corn. They are spaced at 30 inches and are 12 inches above the ground. The Bubbler Shroud makes a wider bubble. They are spaced at 60 inches with an 18-inch ground clearance.
“Both Bubblers place the water gently to the soil. Unlike standard spray nozzles, they do not splash the water off of the crops’ leaves and stalks, minimizing wind-drift and evaporation losses,” Stillwell said. “When compared to other options, the Bubblers are more cost-effective and require less maintenance. And, because they operate at low pressures, they also save energy.”
Field days were held during the growing season at all three Water Technology Farms, giving growers and opportunity to see how the various technologies worked.
“When farmers can see how this is applied on the level of a full circle, not just a few rows of a demonstration plot, it means a lot more to them,” said Jonathan Aguilar, one of the water specialists at Kansas State University who conducted the research during the 2016 growing season. “This is how the technology works over an entire field."
Plentiful rainfall in 2016 made it difficult to determine how much impact was due to irrigation practices and how much was because of the weather. He said the research will be repeated next year, and if there’s normal rainfall or less, there could be measurable differences.
Stillwell added that his team will be continue to be involved in the project next year and beyond.
“The team at American Irrigation is very committed to prolonging the future of the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies water to southwest Kansas and several other states,” Stillwell said. “This is an ongoing program that will continue into the coming years with diverse technologies being tested on more systems.”