Northeast growers are adopting methods usually associated with Western growers. These tomato plants have an underground drip irrigation pipe 10 inches below the surface. Shot by Lance Cheung on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Even five years ago, many American vegetable growers thought it unnecessary to invest in irrigation systems and equipment. But as the rainfall dries up over a long period of time, the farm is trying to figure out the best way to avoid making costly mistakes.
Here are some tips from irrigation experts on how to start.
Irrigation is a huge investment. Not only the cost of irrigation infrastructure, but also the cost of water and electricity.
Usually, we see growers take a conservative approach when testing new methods. They want a way to complete their testing and analysis without adding time and overhead to their already busy day.
It is very important to be able to analyze the success of new irrigation projects. Adding solar-powered, connected underground sensors for root monitoring is a relatively small incremental investment. In fact, it has many advantages, and these advantages will be rewarded over time. On the one hand, it enables growers to monitor specific fields or compare methods of different fields without having to visit these fields in person.
Having root-specific data literally avoids "spraying and praying"-watering the field and hoping for something good to happen. Research based on data collected from 1950 to 2015 shows that only irrigation of corn, soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat, sorghum, cotton, barley, oats, and alfalfa can increase production by 210% to 250% compared to just relying on rainfall. This sounds like a great victory.
However, this is actually leaving money on the table. The next evolution is to subvert the current "horizontal" approach (spraying the entire field). This method assumes that since the soil is moist, it benefits the roots.
Looking down at the active root zone up to 48 inches long is what we call the "vertical" method. Using this new vertical method of looking at the roots of each crop, growers can save valuable water and expensive nutrients and increase yield by another 40%. The vertical method allows growers to better control the timing and amount of irrigation as well as nutrients, thereby improving crop health, consistency and yield
We always advise our growers to start small and increase the planting area as their comfort improves. One acre this season, 10 acres next season, and then the entire farm. Wait until you have mastered the basics of drip irrigation in the first few years before you consider using advanced sensors. Irrigation, especially drip irrigation, requires major changes to the way you manage your crops and should not be done all at once. You will only learn from experience.
Jerry McDonald, President of Grow Irrigation
There are a variety of portable or temporary irrigation systems available, such as hose reels and above-ground piping systems (poly, layflat, etc.). If growers only need occasional supplemental irrigation, they can choose to use a portable system. If and when it might become a more routine requirement, you should consider investing in a permanent system. In either case, determining when to water is a key step in the irrigation process. However, you can achieve this at the lowest cost by measuring the actual root zone water conditions and watering only when needed.
Tom Penning, President of IRROMETER
Increasing irrigation for farms is nothing more than adding "drought insurance." If the grower's field can benefit by ensuring reliable and consistent water for crops, then irrigation is appropriate.
Pivot irrigation is not as expensive as many growers think. In the absence of rainfall, the actual water consumption of most crops is only 6 gallons per acre per minute. But many systems are over-designed to compensate for inefficient water use. By designing a customized and efficient pivot irrigation system, growers can not only control the uncertainty of rainfall, but also ensure that the correct amount of water is used for irrigation.
Applying the right amount of water at the right time is essential to obtain a good yield, but it is also important to apply it evenly. Surface irrigation systems may be inadequate in this regard, but pivot systems evenly water the entire field with precise and correct amounts, which means they can achieve higher efficiency at a lower cost than other types of irrigation .
The pivot irrigation system is easy to operate and can be automated using remote monitoring technology (such as Lindsay's FieldNET). They are also suitable for crop modeling and irrigation scheduling technologies, such as FieldNET Advisor, without the use of soil moisture detectors and other expensive sensors. FieldNET Advisor is an automatic irrigation planning tool that simplifies the irrigation decision of growers by providing recommendations on the timing, location, and amount of irrigation.
Farris Hightower, Regional Sales Manager, Lindsay Corporation
Growers in areas that have not previously considered irrigation will help themselves to the greatest extent by visiting areas in the country that have been irrigated for some time.
For example, if an apple grower in the eastern United States has not irrigated in the past and is considering starting, they may visit Washington State. This will help them understand why apple growers use both drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation. He will also learn how to use sprinklers to prevent freezing. Sprinklers are the most suitable for the growth of the tree, rather than dripping water is a better choice.
Vegetable growers may visit California's Central Valley, where operations mainly use fixed sprinklers and drip irrigation tapes. Other choices are Washington or Idaho. There, the farm most often uses pivot irrigation to grow potatoes, carrots and sweet corn. They all need to discover the possible role of various irrigation systems in increasing yields. Many people may find that installing an irrigation system can get a good return on investment even if the weather pattern has not changed.
John Rowley, Rotator Product Manager, Nelson Irrigation Corporation
In the West, the rental system can be used for field crops. Start with simple things; upgrades are usually easy.
Jim Clare, CEO and Founder, Pacific Southwest Irrigation
Most growers have multiple water supply systems and water supply systems. Whether the water comes from lakes, ponds, wells, or rivers and streams, they all need to filter water. Start to install the filtration system. One of their suppliers will provide them with a good reference on how the filtration system works. The initial cost will not be so high. This will be a long time ago before they have the capital expenditure to install filters on all water supply systems.
Daniel S Flanick, Tekleen Manager
Carol Miller is the editor of Meister Media Worldwide's publication "American Vegetable Growers." View all author stories here.
A leader in agricultural profit, production and education