GARDEN CITY — Kansas State University Irrigation Engineer Freddie Lamm held up an irrigation schedule he wrote out by hand in 1992.
The question now, Lamm said, wasn’t if farmers should schedule, but how they should schedule. One of the many topics covered during the field day at the Roth Water Technology Farm in Garden City, which covered several facets of getting water to crops in Western Kansas.
The field day was co-hosted by the Kansas Water Office and Kansas State Southwest Research and Extension Center and included a threefold approach to irrigation information. The day began with presentations from both Kansas State and KWO, but also included presentations from the Ogallala Aquifer Program Center Pivot Technology Outreach — bringing speakers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas and more. Co-ops, consultants, and dealers gave demonstrations on soil moisture sensor technology in the afternoon.
Lamm talked to attendees about the differences in evapotranspiration scheduling and climatic scheduling, as well as current programs to make scheduling easier, such as KanSched, available through the K-State Mobile Irrigation Lab.
Over-irrigating not only leads to a loss of water in an area with a limited resource, but also a loss of money to the producer when excess water isn’t being used by the plant. Irrigating too little causes stress to crops.
“A big question is ‘will irrigation scheduling always save me money?’” Lamm said. “The answer is no, because sometimes it’s going to tell you to irrigate, but that schedule needs to be based on science.”
Accuracy and technology
That science includes gathering information from a field to help irrigate more accurately. Other presenters at the field day discussed the pieces that go into that, such as using sensors to measure soil moisture and using planes, drones or satellite imaging to measure canopy temperature.
K-State Agronomist Lucas Haag is currently working on a team looking at aerial field imagery from drones, fixed-wings and satellites. The project is focused on measuring canopy temperature — another factor that can help producers determine when to irrigate. A well-watered field of corn will be much cooler than one under drought stress. The team is also using the technology to measure the difference in canopy temperature and air temperature.
“The closer we are to the plants, like with a drone, the higher resolution image we can capture,” Haag said. “But what can I do with a Cessna that I can’t with a drone? Cover a lot of acres per hour.”
The project is aiming to see how these technologies can work together and impact the way producers plan irrigation. While the use of drones is fairly new, imaging technology is available to producers now.
“A lot of this is far out, but there is some technology out there right now,” Haag said. “I encourage folks to at least dip their toe in on some of these imagery products and learn how they can help.”
Scoping out options
Other presentations included technology that can help monitor water pressure, pivot efficiency and research into how tillage and variety affect irrigation needs. Other demonstrations covered picking the correct sprinkler package and nozzle package.
The Roth Water Technology Farm — owned by the Garden City Company and operated by Dwane Roth — hosted the field day at an irrigated circle featuring several different attachments. Field day attendees could see how bubblers, drag hoses, drip hoses and more could allow for more efficient irrigation.
The Roth farm is also in its second year of a five-year conservation plan with the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources, according to DWR Commissioner Mike Meyer.
The farm is within a 7,000-acre piece of land designated as a water conservation area by DWR. Through the created of a conservation plan for the area, the land would have been allocated 13,000 acre-feet of water to use per year; however, the Garden City Company voluntarily lowered that number to 5,000 acre-feet.
“Dwane’s portion is allocated around 1,200 acre-feet per year,” Meyer said. “And they’ve only used around 600 acre-feet at this point.”
The Garden City area has seen decent rains in July and beginning of August. The plan through DWR allows the water conservation area to bank water from wet years, or borrow water during times of drought throughout its five-year period. The area just has to stay within its five-year water allocation.
For producers outside of a conservation area, DWR also offers a flex program. Water allocations are generally made on a yearly basis, but the flex program sets a five-year allocation for farmers, allowing them to bank or borrow water through the five years.
“Sometimes folks get to the end of the year and have 100 acre-feet left over that they didn’t use,” Meyer said. “Well they go ahead and apply because if they don’t use it, they lose it, but that’s a waste of water. This allows them to roll that water over.”
For those who don’t feel the need to be part of a program, but still want to conserve their resources, Meyer said a program is in place to help protect them from mandatory cuts in the future.
Meyer encouraged those who are conserving on their own to document what they are doing and how they are doing it.
“If you bring in documentation to DWR, we have a system to protect you from possible cuts in the future,” he said. “This will allow you — if in the future water allocations are cut — to show that you’ve been doing your part, so you should not get cut more when other did nothing.”
The day concluded with demonstrations on installing soil moisture probes from Seaman Crop Consulting, Garden City Coop and American Irrigation. Getting an accurate read on soil moisture can help producers irrigation more efficiently. If there is adequate moisture still in the soil, even during dry periods, irrigation is not always necessary.