Plan well-drilling activities ahead of time to get irrigation water aboveground
Much like the engine that powers your tractor, farmland drives your operation forward by providing the fuel your crops need to survive.
Before installing a well, hire a professional to drill a test hole to better understand local geology and availability of water.
That’s particularly true if you use underground water to irrigate your corn and soybeans. And like an engine in need of an oil change, farmland that can’t handle a well will give you warning signs.
The best solution is to evaluate available resources, work with experts who know geology and drilling, and keep good records. Wells are a significant financial investment, so a good plan will also help you spend your money wisely.
"It adds up pretty fast, and every situation’s a little different," says Robert Albrecht, owner of Albrecht Well Drilling in Ohio, Ill.
Here are seven questions to ask when deciding whether to drill a new irrigation well.
Will my water supply support a new well? First, do some research. "Study the area, other well logs and what’s known about the existing aquifer," Albrecht says.
Second, identify a professional well-driller who can help you gather additional information. It might be your pivot dealer or a contractor. Get recommendations and work with someone who knows local geology and has access to state records.
Third, have your well-drilling professional drill a test hole. This will provide clues as to the soil composition at various depths and the quality of the aquifer.
Otherwise, "they can end up with what we call a sand pumper," says Aaron Schrader, owner of Schrader Well Drilling in Carbon, Ind. "It’s where a test well wasn’t put in to find out what the size of the gravel formation is."
In Nebraska, which has nearly 95,000 active irrigation wells, drillers are looking for several factors, says Bill Kranz, associate professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska. Among them are a sizeable layer of sand, gravel or other water-bearing formation.
Based on what the driller finds, it would be prudent to take the results to a geologist to determine whether the rock formation will sustain a well.
Water volume is also important to know. In Nebraska, wells generally need to sustain a pumping rate of at least 6 gal. per minute per acre for a full quarter-section center pivot. Get as good an estimate as possible of the rate that will be achieved once a pump is installed, Kranz notes.
"Since they’re now $85 to $95 a foot to put an irrigation well in, you don’t want to put one in and not be able to pump water out of it," he says.
- December 2013