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Field Day Brings Multifaceted Approach to Irrigated Crops

10 August 2013

Water conservation and nutrient management are important topics in agriculture today.

Facing drought situations and water restrictions, along with increasing regulations, farmers must manage their inputs as efficiently as possible. Through innovative approaches partnered with advanced technologies, growers have the capability to manage their inputs more effectively to work towards producing a successful crop.

An educational program held at the Irrigation Research Foundation (IRF) in Yuma, Colo., July 22-23, provided growers the opportunity to learn from experts about the latest practices and advancements in irrigated crop production. The SFP Irrigation Field Day featured sessions on water management, center pivot irrigation equipment, nutrient management and fertilizer efficiency, as well as plot tour demonstrations.

David Lankford, Earthtec Solutions global director and chief visionary officer, discussed water management techniques to minimize plant stress and maximize yield potential. Lankford explained to minimize stress from water and nutrients, certain crop needs must be identified, such as when the crop uses the most water, when the crop uses the most fertilizer, where the crop takes up water in the soil and where the crop takes up fertilizer in the soil.

Through the use of electronic monitoring, Earthtec collects water and ion data from the soil and pairs that information with environmental data, like the weather. They combine the data and analyze it using proprietary software to determine the appropriate water and nutrient management programs for the growing crop. Within their software system, they are able to ascertain how much water and/or fertilizer the crop is using and determine if adjustments need to be made. An advantage to Earthtec’s approach is that the data can be available in 15 minutes, allowing producers the opportunity to quickly adjust their management programs as necessary. 

Tying in with water management practices, Dan Ross, Center Pivot Irrigation owner and CEO, described the technology available through center pivot equipment. A growing segment in irrigation is variable rate irrigation (VRI), which allows the producer to apply different amounts of water to specific locations of the field based on water holding capacity.

Initially, they create a soil map of the grower’s field and then build a water application plan for the crop based on those maps. A benefit of this program is the ability to receive notifications through a cell phone or tablet and allows the producer to operate the irrigation equipment off-farm via a mobile device.

The VRI program also can be used in conjunction with additional specialized water management programs, including Earthtec’s program. Finally, the VRI stores usage data, which can be transferred to a USB device, providing the growers with detailed information on water usage, flow and pump data, and electricity usage.

Moving into nutrient management, Barney Gordon, PhD and professor emeritus of agronomy at Kansas State University shared the importance of a proper nutrient management plan. He discussed the importance of adequate phosphorus for a young crop. Phosphorus is essential for root development and an early season deficiency can limit yield potential for a crop. Additionally, Gordon examined various starter applications containing phosphorus and nitrogen, and the effects on the corn crop.

In two separate three-year studies, the 2-by-2 and dribble applications provided the best yield results for the crop. Furthermore, Gordon described the impacts of nitrogen management on a crop. Generally, lack of nitrogen has the highest potential to limit yield, thus limiting profit. It is important to have the nutrient available to many young crops, even if additional applications are provided throughout development. His research showed winter wheat yielded best when nitrogen was applied at green-up prior to the F6 stage. Likewise, his research also showed corn responded to nitrogen in starter applications because it helped stimulate the absorption of phosphorus by the plants.

Continuing on nutrient management, Larry Murphy, PhD and president of Murphy Agro, discussed the use of fertilizer efficiency products used in conjunction with a producer’s nutrient management plan. He shared research indicating, regardless of P source, less than 25 per cent of phosphate is available during the first year of application. While many factors influence phosphorus uptake and availability, the nutrient becomes fixed in the soil by specific cations: calcium, iron, aluminum and magnesium. Murphy explained products such as AVAIL® Phosphorus Fertilizer Enhancer, can improve the availability of the nutrient by reducing fixation.

Similarly, nitrogen-use efficiency is very low with as much as 50 per cent being lost through leaching, volatilization and denitrification. In multiple studies, a nitrogen-stabilizer, such as NutriSphere-N® Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager, can help reduce the loss of nitrogen by keeping it in its more usable ammonium form longer. Murphy provided data highlighting crop response to nitrogen based on variety. The research showed each variety responded differently to the same nitrogen application, suggesting each variety uses nitrogen in a slightly different way.

Bringing all of the sessions together, producers were invited to tour the IRF test plots. Charles Corey, IRF farm director, discussed the history of the IRF, a private, non-profit, independent research and demonstration farm situated on the Ogallala Aquifer. The foundation began with a group of farmers who were concerned with the possibility of depleting water reserves and who wanted to identify better practices to grow profitable crops with less water.

The organization provides research cooperators a location to study issues relating to water and fertilizer applications, different hybrid varieties of various crops and lower energy costs to produce the maximum amount of net income per acre on a variety of soil types. Corey explained the vast number of trials in progress at IRF and demonstrated the response of crops to certain treatments versus untreated. In another area, Lankford displayed Earthtec’s water management trials and equipment. Producers viewed how the data was collected, transmitted and monitored.

The field day brought about the opportunity for producers to view a multifaceted approach to irrigated crops. They were able to follow each step of the process and learn how they coincide to produce a high-yielding corn crop. Information was brought full-circle when the growers realized how little water the corn had received up to the field day.

Across the entire farm less than nine inches of water, rainfall and irrigation combined, had been supplied to the crop, yet it looked healthy and was tasseling. This further demonstrated the impact a comprehensive water and nutrient management program can have on yields at the end of a season.

August 2013

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