A lack of rainfall hurt Leon Knirk’s corn yields the past four years straight. He hopes to see higher yields in 2011 in high-risk fields, thanks to a center pivot irrigation system he installed.
Sweltering heat and limited rainfall have taken a toll on Leon Knirk’s 1,000-acre corn crop for each of the past four years. In response, the Quincy, Mich., farmer is in the process of putting two center pivots on 200 acres this year.
The pivots will cover Knirk’s lightest soils, those on the farm with the least amount of water-holding capacity.
"We hope by removing the weather variable that we’ll be able to achieve higher and more consistent yields across those fields," he says.
In addition, Knirk expects to see a boost in his corn yield average, which currently hovers at 150 bu. per acre.
Higher prices for corn along with what Knirk says are changing weather patterns, drove his decision to purchase the center pivots.
Other farmers in Great Lakes states are evaluating the payoffs from irrigation for similar reasons, notes Lyndon Kelley, Extension irrigation educator for Indiana and Michigan.
On average, he says corn crops in upper Midwest states require between 6" and 10" of moisture per season to develop into a financially viable crop. While some areas routinely receive the needed moisture, others do not.
Points to ponder. Despite the uptick in farmers’ interest in irrigation, Kelley cautions that there are limiting factors they need to pencil out and consider before jumping on the irrigation bandwagon.
An adequate water supply is at the top of the list of requirements. Kelley says research shows that farmers need a water supply that can provide the crop between 5 gal. and 7 gal. of water per minute per acre.
"The closer your water supply is to 7 gal. per minute the better," he says. "Some grower contracts aren’t viable if you don’t have the minimum requirement."
If farmers are uncertain about the water availability on their farm, Kelley encourages them to hire a licensed well digger or hydrogeologist to investigate.
Water availability was the biggest issue Knirk faced.
"Finding water was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated," he says. "We had five test wells and only one ended up being good. The other four were insufficient, so we had to change course. Now we plan to use ponds, and only one system will run off the well."
- January 2011