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Producers Invest in Water Infrastructure

October 27, 2012
By: Ed Clark, Top Producer Business and Issues Editor
p34 Pivots Spread East

Producers invest in water infrastructure to control risk

Mother Nature’s highly unreliable temperament in recent years is prompting farmers to take  matters into their own hands. Center-pivot irrigation systems, once thought to be suitable only
for Kansas, Nebraska or California’s San Joaquin Valley, are going up in the eastern Corn Belt.

"Irrigated land comprises 30% of Lawrence County, Ill.’s total acreage, but 60% to 65% in Russell and Allison townships," says Norm Kocher, chairman of the Russell-Allison Water Authority, farmer and dealer for T-L Irrigation. "That’s double the amount in the two townships from 10 years ago." That’s an extreme case, but it puts numbers to the brisk adoption rate.

"For Reinke, the market has increased rapidly in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and western Tennessee," says Tim Goldhammer, Reinke Mfg.’s vice president of marketing. "We’ve added  dealers in those high-demand areas."

Several factors—such as high-priced grain, rising input costs, sky-high land values and rents, and, more often than not, quirky weather—are working in concert to drive the trend to irrigate.

The cost of erecting a center-pivot irrigation system varies significantly, says Rich Panowicz, vice president of North American sales for Valley Irrigation. As a rule of thumb, a total irrigation  installation for 130 acres requires an investment of approximately $1,000 per acre, plus costs for underground pipe and electrical tie-ins. The cost of drilling a well can bring the price tag much  higher, depending on how deep you need to go to reach water, he notes.

Tired of dealing with dry weather every year, Cecil, Ohio, producer Curt Potter invested in a new irrigation system earlier this year. The ability to water when needed did the trick—he realized a 100 bu. per acre difference between irrigated and nonirrigated acres. After an initial investment of $1,100 per acre, the estimated costs have been just a few dollars per acre.

Get started. Before you grab your checkbook, there are several factors to consider to determine if irrigation is right for you, says Lyndon Kelley, an irrigation specialist for Michigan State and  Purdue universities.

First, Kelley says, you need water. Access differs dramatically by location, even within the same township.

"You need a water source that allows you to pump 500 gal. of water per minute for 100 acres for corn. That’s the bare minimum," Kelley says.

At this rate, producers can generate 1" of water every four days, which is what corn requires.  Soybeans need less water, so some producers with less than ideal volume might still be able to irrigate with scheduling changes. Corn and soybean peak water demand comes at different times, as well.

Second, what soil types do you have? Sandy loam soils respond well to irrigation, and sandy soils that are most vulnerable to drought are probably the best place to begin. That’s not to say that heavier soils should never be irrigated, however, and some producers who irrigated for the first time this year report excellent yield responses from soils with a denser profile.

Existing irrigators are also taking advantage of strong incomes to upgrade systems, Panowicz  says. More growers are adding corner units to minimize the number of acres that are not reached by the center-pivot circle.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - November 2012



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