Source: Central Valley Ag

I know that not all of you that read this are irrigators. Regardless, for those of you that have followed me for any amount of time now, you know that water management is probably the most important thing to me as an agronomist. I am a firm believer that it is our responsibility to manage our surface and subsurface water as responsibly as we can because ultimately it's in our hands how regulations and control of these resources will develop in the coming years. And that is why every year you will find me committing time and energy to talk about irrigation management.

I think it would be accurate to say that as a whole, agriculture does a better job now than ever before when it comes to water use efficiency. The average corn crop in the plains uses 22-25 inches of water per year to grow corn. Compare that to the turf of a golf course or your lawn that need 30-60 inches of water per year, and you quickly understand that we do a pretty good job all things considered. When we talk about improving the water use efficiency and scheduling of water on our crops, we are talking about fine-tuning it.

Irrigation management is something that we as agronomists and farmers have been working to improve since the 1970’s. Technology even began to play a role in irrigation management in the 70’s with the introduction of the Watermark sensor. Obviously, technology has evolved and improved considerably in 40 years since Watermarks were launched, but the idea of moisture probes is still gaining momentum and improving all of these years later.

While there are many different technologies and companies out there that make these moisture probes, I will argue that there are very few bad ones. As long as the probe itself is in good working order and has a reputable company behind it that can provide proof of their calibration procedures, the probe is a tool, much like a disk or a ripper. It is when it is put in the hands of a skilled professional or an ambitious amateur that it becomes more than a tool and transforms into a system capable of creation and efficiency.

And that is where I think working with a trusted advisor, like one of our ACS Regional Specialists brings the advantage to your operation when it comes to irrigation management. The probe in the ground is only one piece of the equation. Understanding the soils and the variability of your field to know where the probe should go is essential.

Last year, the rooting characteristics of our crops were more prevalent than ever before in some regions, and that lead to readings that were different than what we had seen in years past. The experience that comes from working with your probes on your fields is valuable and can’t be replaced by computer models. The experience that your trusted advisor gets from working with multiple fields on multiple soil types and all of those variables adds to the value.

The end game of irrigation management is to become more efficient. That means with our inputs, our money, and our time. An irrigation management system that is really easy to use, but doesn’t help you make decisions is worthless. As is a system that gives great information that saves you water and money, but takes considerable time to get any actionable information out of.

If you are an irrigator and you haven’t looked at irrigation management before, then I am challenging you to look into it before this irrigation system gets underway. There are lots of good systems out there (I just happen to be partial to the AquaSystems program from CVA), and you can still put one to work on your farm this year.

Just make sure you look for one that meets all of your needs. There are systems that are models, systems that just have moisture probes and scheduling, and then there are systems that also are tied in with your pivot monitoring as AquaSystems does with FieldWise. Research your options and talk to your trusted advisor. And then make a decision and let a system help you save money this year.