AgCenter agents hear about irrigation efficiency

Olivia McClure, Conger, Stacia  |  7/24/2015 11:59:50 PM

LSU AgCenter agent Kylie Miller, far right, speaks at the irrigation stop on a farm near Ferriday, Louisiana, during a field tour on July 23. The event offered training for personnel with the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Photo By: OLIVIA MCCLURE

Water gushes from poly pipe onto soybeans at the Bob Manning farm near Ferriday. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

Photo By: OLIVIA MCCLURE

News Release Distributed 07/24/15

FERRIDAY, La. – Attendees of a recent tour of northeastern Louisiana farms heard about research they can put in practice to help farmers’ bottom lines, including ways to make the most of irrigation.

The field tour, held on July 23, served as training in best management practices for personnel with the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Experts from all three agencies gave presentations at four farms and the AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station.

Kylie Miller, an AgCenter agent in Concordia Parish, said she and other agents are studying how to improve irrigation efficiency by using programmable surge valves, which switch water flow from one side of the field to the other at set times. At the Bob Manning farm near Ferriday, attendees saw how the valves encourage better soil saturation and reduce runoff.

“The whole idea is to minimize saturating the beginning of the field while under-irrigating the end of the field,” said AgCenter irrigation engineer Stacia Davis. “If you’re continually supplying water to the top of the field, you’re going to put more water into the ground than the roots can take in, and that’s detrimental to the plant.”

Surge valves cost about $2,000, not including a controller, Davis said, but the investment helps “put water in the right place at the right time.”

Two free computer programs – PHAUCET and Pipe Planner – can determine where and how large to punch holes in poly pipe using data that farmers enter about their operation, such as row length and spacing. Davis said optimizing hole spacing and size helps maintain proper water pressure in the pipe and reduce runoff.

Farmers can use soil moisture sensors to schedule irrigation only when it is needed instead of going by the calendar, she said.

Some sensors measure volume of water in the soil, while others measure water pressure. Farmers who have multiple soil types on their land should install one sensor for each type, Davis said.

Data-logging devices, such as Aqua Trac, allow farmers to access information from their sensors online, Davis said.

“When you’re looking at this information, you want to watch for trends,” Miller said. “You want to see, ‘It takes so many days for me to deplete that much water from the soil moisture.’ This is a tool. We’re using these sensors to plan when we’re going to make these irrigation events.”

Farmers should use pipe and methods suitable for their pumps to make sure water reaches crops fast enough, said Biff Handy, an NRCS irrigation engineer. Likewise, certain delivery systems work better with a diesel or electric pump.

Every farmer should have a handheld tachometer, or RPM gauge, to monitor how much work pumps are putting out in their delivery system, he said.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Handy said, adding that farmers must get out in the field to be able to correct inefficiencies.

Other stops on the field tour featured updates on cotton and soybean research, herbicide technologies, and insect and disease management.

Olivia McClure

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