Manage Irrigation to Maximize Crop Response

June 16, 2011 06:29 AM

While the destructive force of too much water has dominated headlines across the country this year, farmers in some parts of the country face the opposite extreme. Parts of Michigan and Indiana, for instance, are seeing an uptick in the installation of irrigation systems by corn and soybean farmers, notes Lyndon Kelley, irrigation educator for Michigan State University and Purdue University.

Kelley says that while irrigation can reduce the impact of drought conditions, the associated costs can’t be overlooked.  He provides the following eight irrigation management tips, via his Website, to help farmers maximize returns from their irrigation investments.
Make sure your irrigation application is uniform. There are easy catch can systems available to evaluate the uniformity of the application of your system. Make sure tomake the correction.
Know your actual application. The catch can system available to evaluate the
uniformity of the application of your system will also tell you the actual application rate.
Your system provider or the website below can provide you with tools to print a
corrected percent timer chart if needed.
Irrigation Catch Can System Demonstrated
An irrigation assessment technique using collection cups, like these 32-ounce cups from Taco Bell, can help farmers determine whether they are under- or over-applying water to their fields. The resulting information can then help them determine how to calibrate their systems to adjust the amount of water applied.
Assure yourself of an adequate water supply. Five gal/minute/acre pump capacity
(.25 in./day) will meet all crop needs except for hot long dry spells of 15 days or more.
That means a 500 gal/minute pump can provide 1” every 4 days on 100 acres. Avoid
legal challenges or neighbor complaints that may reduce your availability to water.
Schedule irrigation applications. Have a plan to determine the appropriate amount of
water to be applied to a crop at the correct time to avoid yield loss and conserve water.
Under watering will reduce yield potential leaving valuable crop inputs under utilized.
Over watering can waste nature resources and potentially push nutrient out of the root
zone. Several irrigation scheduling tools are available at the website referenced at the end of this story.
Use irrigation to lessen stand loss due to soil crusting. Apply ½ inch in most irrigated soil at the appearance of first spike if crusting is hampering emergence. Maintain a moist soil surface with small application till crop emerges.
Get maximum effectiveness of soil applied herbicide. Irrigate with ½” or more to activate herbicide within 48 hours if rain is not expected.
Reduce nitrogen fertilizer loss to volatilization. Water in nitrogen application with ½” or more of irrigation water to move nitrogen into the soil.
Consider fertigation to apply at least part of the nitrogen budgeted for the year. Split nitrogen applications reduce potential of early season loss during wet periods. Fertigation allows nitrogen application right when maximum nitrogen is used by thecrop, with low labor and fuel use and no compaction of the soil. Make sure the systemapplication is uniform and correct backflow safety valves and safety shut-downs are inplace to protect the water supply for you and the neighbors.
Website information available: For more information on each of these irrigation management practices go to the St. Joseph County MSU Extension Irrigation website. Follow the Irrigation link on the left column of the page. Once on the irrigation website you should be able to locate all the items talked about in this fact sheet.



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