Surprising Lessons I Learned From 8 Years of Subsurface Drip Irrigation
20 Jul 2320 min 49 sec

Kelly Garrett implemented subsurface drip irrigation on 370 acres of his Iowa farm in 2015, making the system operational in 2016. As the system enters its eighth year of operation, Damian Mason interviews Kelly about the insights he has gained into soil, fertility, and intensive farm management from using the subsurface drip system. These lessons are applicable to all farmers, regardless of whether they utilize irrigation. Kurt Grimm from NutraDrip also joins the discussion.

Presented by AgXplore

00:00 So you've heard us talk about subsurface drip irrigation. You're saying, I wonder if that'd be something I should put in myself. 00:05 I wonder what the results are. I wonder if there's an actual baseline, maybe enough information, a body of experience we can pull from. Well, there is, 00:12 and that's what we're talking about today. Kelly Garrett's subsurface drip irrigation Turns eight. We're gonna tell you what he's learned and how he's applying it better for 00:21 bigger results on his Iowa Farm on this edition of Cutting the Curve. Welcome to extreme Ag cutting the curve more than just a podcast. 00:29 It's the place for insights and information you can apply immediately to your farming operation for increased success. 00:36 This episode of Cutting the Curve is brought to you by Ag Explorer with innovative products that improve fertilizer efficiency, protect yield potential, 00:44 and reduce stress. Ag Explorer helps growers maximize field potential. Find out how Ag Explorer can help you get more out of your 00:54 And now, here's your host, Damien Mason. Hey there. Welcome to another fantastic episode of Extreme Ag Cutting the Curve. I've got Kurt Grimm with Nutra Drip joining us. 01:05 It's a subsurface drip irrigation, uh, product installer. And I've got Kelly Garrett area in Iowa, founder of Extreme Ag. 01:14 You've seen us before. In fact, I just, last month was in the field with these guys talking about his subsurface drip irrigation unit. It's pretty cool stuff. 01:25 I didn't even know how this stuff worked. I knew it was on specialty crops like almonds and whatnot. I in California, and, uh, I learned about this thing. 01:34 It's basically a little teeny hose, a little piece of plastic with a little pinhole in it. They put about 12 to 16 inches under the ground and they irrigate from the 01:41 bottom up. Kurt and I talked about this at Commodity Classic. We've talked about it at Kelly's Farm. Talked about a couple other places. 01:48 So the point is, what have we learned in eight years? That's what we're gonna cover today because it's pretty cool stuff. You probably don't have one because very few acres do have this. 01:57 Even Kelly only has this on about 5% of his acres. So what did we learn in eight years, Kurt? First off, did I get anything wrong right there? I mean, 02:05 I go by everything you tell me and I try and retain it, but you're the irrigation expert. Did I miss anything? No, I think you got it. That's, uh, that's where we're at. It's, it's a, 02:14 it's a journey, but it's been a good journey. Am I right that it's 12 to 16 inches underground? That is correct. 12 to 16 inches under the ground. Um, 02:22 we're gonna apply around a quarter inch a day of water and depending on how, how the, uh, well is set up, um, fertigate irrigate every acre. 02:30 Yeah. And by the way, if you know, you and I have talked about this with Mr. Garrett, 02:35 but we always assume that the person that's tuning into this to listen to it or to watch it is not seeing any of our past episodes. 02:42 So while we're talking about sub-service drip irrigation, the quick overview, is it that little hose, 02:47 that little piece of plastic that has the pinhole in it that gets buried underground? It's about a half inch diameter, right? 02:53 That's correct. Half inch to seven eight. Sometimes we'll go up to an inch diameter depending on how long the runs are. So the longer the runs, the bigger the diameter, 03:00 there's gonna be an emitter every 27, 24 inches. That's where the water actually comes out at. Got it. 03:07 And you can run it for quite a ways because one of the things we talked about at AG PhD last year was using this to take care of, uh, 03:15 surface water that comes off of the large dairy facilities that's got a bunch of different organic products in it. 03:21 That's correct. Yep. And we're running systems. Even Kelly has a system that pushes water over a mile and then the, within the drip line, we're going over a half a mile. So 03:31 Yeah. And so when you talk about it varying in sizes, that's kind of like, uh, a piece of duct work. When you've gotta go to the far end of a building, 03:37 it's bigger here and it gets smaller as it goes down. Yours is kind of like that, right? That's correct. Yep. 03:43 Start out with a 10 inch mainline telescope all the way down to a three inch and then down to the drip line. 03:49 Uh, subsurface drip irrigation is used in not that many broad acre, it's more of a specialty crop thing. 03:55 And you and I talked about this very few percentage of the acres in the Iowas or the Kansas cities or the Indianas or the, uh, Illinois, Ohio sort of stuff. 04:03 Nebraska, we think of traditional crop belt has this, right? That's correct. It's, it's still a niche. It's a, it's something that, 04:11 that is growing. Um, primarily, obviously center pivot irrigation is very predominant, but we're learning how to use drip irrigation better, 04:20 not only for water utilization, but also for nutrient delivery. And being able to, to, 04:26 to use the drip line as an IV right to the drip, right to the root zone and really, um, stimulate the plants, stimulate nutrient uptake. Um, be able to spoonfeed that crop every day, 04:38 whatever it needs. So I, I think there's, there's a, a, a really big potential once we understand and, and, and we're learning that that interaction and how do we feed the plant better and 04:49 how do we make sure that plant never has a bad day? I like it. So anyway, I'm sorry. I know that you, you think that we've covered this, 04:56 but we always gotta assume that somebody's tuning in here. Maybe if they did watch our conversation with commodity class, 05:00 which by the way is a good one. We were at the booth, uh, with Kurt, and I remember you said something that I thought was interesting cuz I said, 05:06 from an environmental standpoint, we're gonna see more drip irrigation. Cause with water being more and more in the crosshairs, 05:12 especially in some of these western states, kind of a drought year going on out west, Senator Pivot can be inefficient. You said you use about 30% less water per, per, uh, 05:23 acre and per crop per crop produces probably even less than that, right? Yeah. So water use efficiency is going to increase somewhere around 05:32 20, 25, 30%. It depends on the day, it depends on the humidity, the wind, all those things are big, big factors. There's been a lot of research done in, 05:40 in west Texas, western Nebraska, western Kansas, where they've, they've proved out what the difference in evaporation is and it's somewhere in 05:48 that 20 to 30% that that, uh, center pivot typically loses to evaporation. Got it. All right. Speaking of water, Kelly, 05:55 before we hit record on this episode, you said one of the interesting things that you learned in your eighth year now of running this subsurface drip irrigation on the field there by your shop, 06:05 in particular, quality of water, you didn't think your water was a problem. You don't have like contaminants, 06:11 but you've learned that all water's not created equal. Talk about that. It's not, you know, and uh, Kurt and I talked about this, you know, 06:20 probably three years ago, but I didn't have the education or resources to fully understand it. And we keep learning more and more about it. And, you know, 06:28 to put it quite simply, my water stinks. It, it's high in bicarbonates, it's high in iron, it's it's hard water. 06:35 And the bicarbonates tie up a lot of the fertility. And so it's something that we've started to deal with now to, to take those bicarbonates out. 06:44 We use sulfur and that's what we need to do to make the re the next yield level. By the way, you, you've changed some of your water conditioning. 06:56 Is that gonna remedy it or does it change? Do you have to change your practices or you can you just condition the water and get it where you need to be? 07:03 We, uh, what we have done is we, the plant food byproduct that I deal with, my main source of fertility, we spoonfeed that into the water because of the sulfuric acid 07:15 in that plant food product. The sulfur, the sulfur destroys the sulfur and the hydrogen and the sulfuric acid component of that product really knock the, 07:26 knock the bicarbonates back and make the nutrients become available. So we just spoonfeed that product in with the water is how we, is, 07:34 how we deal with the problem. It's very inexpensive for us. We're lucky that we can do that. 07:38 Got it. All right, Kurt, is this something you hear all the time? Is it something you now warn people about? 07:43 Or was he a Guinea pig and then you learned from him about this water thing? Yeah, so I, I'd say we've kind of learned it together. I mean, 07:51 bicarbonates is something that we maybe we haven't paid a lot of attention to until yeah, the last 2, 3, 4 years. And, 07:59 and understanding that bicarbonates neutralize cation and a cation is phosphorus, calcium, magnesium. 08:08 So any you're injecting, um, potassium or magnesium into the water or in your soil, the bicarbonate in the water actually offset it, it ties it up, 08:19 it makes it unavailable to the plant. And so when, when, when we started looking at water quality and why we were seeing some 08:29 nutrients that we had applied either through the drip or even a strip till or however guys had applied nutrients, they simply were not available to the plant. 08:36 They weren't getting in the plant. Um, and so we started asking questions, well, why would that be? And, and looked at water quality. 08:43 And those bicarbonates are offsetting the, the nutrients that we've applied go out, apply, apply, you know, 500 pounds an acre of, of oh, 60 and you're still deficient in potassium. 08:56 Why is that? And and, and a lot of cases where guys irrigate a lot of water and have high bicarbonates, 09:03 they have simply offset those pounds of potassium with bicarbonates. All right. So besides water getting, when you obviously have a dry year, uh, 09:12 first time I was at Kelly Garrett's farm was in July of 2021. We drove around recklessly, 09:19 I might add in a small Ford Ranger flatbed that, uh, Kelly was in a hurry and I don't think it had proper, uh, ear airbags or a seatbelt. And he drove around recklessly. 09:30 Luckily there's no workman's comp claim and I was able to get through the, the mental trauma. But anyway, 09:35 we did go and check out a bunch of ponds that he uses and I said, is this how you irrigate? So the, he was pulling water out of ponds, but again, 09:42 water source out of a couple of those fields are coming out of ponds. The other one's coming out of a well, water's different and all of those. 09:48 So the point is, you kind of have to do water sampling from each one of your sources before you actually then can make any amendments. Yes. 09:56 Yep. And surface water is good. Well, water is bad. That's the general rule. Interesting. So I've 10:02 Never met anybody with well water. That's good. So the point is, Kurt, if you can, pulling out of a drainage pond is, is better than pulling outta your, uh, pulling outta your Well, 10:13 It absolutely is. Yeah. Surface. I'll take surface water 10 times before I take, uh, well water. Well, wells typically are very high in bicarbonate. 10:23 They can have a lot of iron and manganese, which can cause problems even for pivot irrigated guys. That's one of the things that we're learning. 10:29 We have both pivots and drip on our farm and, and we're learning that there's a bicarbonate issue underneath our center pivots. And so we're starting to address that with sulfur burners, 10:38 sulfuric acid, plant food, um, you know, there's different ways to treat bicarbonates, but, but really it's an issue that exists in all of the irrigated farm farmland out 10:47 there where they're fed off of wells specifically. Got another thing, Kelly, that we talked about when you're at your place is it gives you another tool in 10:55 your toolbox as far as using the subsurface drip irrigation to push out micronutrients. And you've done that pretty effectively. 11:02 The one I remember speaking about the most was calcium. But it's not just calcium. You can, you can bleed out and, and, and put trace amounts of stuff through the subs, 11:11 sort of drip irrigation on a prescription basis. Right? We, we barely turned the water on without some sort of fertility in it. Some, you know, and it's not a lot of fertility, it's just enough. 11:21 Like Lee said, we just need to touch the plant to trigger it. And that's mainly what we're doing. 11:27 Okay. So you've used something in most all of your treatments and it's just a, it's just to the person like me that No, 11:34 it's just a tank that's just bleeding in there and it just goes and you just put the, you set a, an adjustment. 11:38 Here's how much we want to go and it's easily done. Right? You know, it's a fertigation pump and it's how many gallons per hour do you wanna pump 11:45 out? So you, you know, simply do the math in your head for what you're applying and set it and go. All right. What is eight years of having this on your farm taught you? 11:53 Besides the water quality issue and the usage of micronutrients? It has taught me that it is, 12:01 it has given me security to make the decisions with marketing, to make the decisions with fertility and to, to try to go higher. Uh, 12:08 our drip acres have really become our research acres cuz we know we're gonna produce something and, uh, you know, specifically the trials from extreme ag, 12:16 we know we're gonna, we, we know what we've got, you know, other than a windstorm or a hailstorm. But when you know what you've got, 12:23 it makes the research that much easier. It makes the decision making that much easier because you have control of another facet of your operation. 12:31 By the way, we're gonna drop in a, a little, uh, little story here, uh, away from some sort of drip irrigation. 12:37 It's about stress mitigation because it's been one of Kelly's big things for about, since I first met him back in 2021. 12:43 He says that a plateful of food fed to an unhealthy person who can't eat it, is he a waste of nutrition. So if you apply that same concept to your crops, 12:50 what do you have? Basically if you have plants that are stressed out and unable to uptake nutrients, applying more nutrients will not help. 12:56 Kelly Garrett applies accomplished max in furrow for stress mitigation. If you want healthier plants, 13:02 visit loveland because what does Kelly Garrett say? Because remember I have retention up here. He says, 13:09 none of us really know what a stress-free pro a crop looks like because we've almost never seen one. That's probably a true story. All right, 13:16 speaking of stress-free right now, when I was out there two weeks ago and your part of the world, it was dry, terrible dry, but the field behind your barn, 13:23 your barn looked pretty dry also and you had subsurface drip irrigation. And I said, Hey, 13:28 I understand why the field over there looks like crap and why the field over there looks like crap. Why does this field look like crap? 13:34 You've got subsurface drip irrigation in, why don't you turn it on? And you said 13:39 You don't want to turn soybeans on ahead of the summer solstice ahead of reproductive time cuz you're just gonna produce a bunch of vegetative growth. 13:47 Those soybeans, we wanna wait until reproductive time to water. Okay, so I thought that was interesting, Kurt, by the way, 13:53 you're nodding your head. You're from Kansas, you're not even supposed to be in the soybean business out there. It's wheat. It's wheat for you people. Wheat and grain sorghum. 14:01 And now you're nodding your head. Is he right? He's right. Yep. I'm in eastern Kansas. A hundred percent agree. We have seldom seen a response to irrigation on soybeans 14:12 before reproductive stage. It just just makes the plant get tall and fall over later. It stretches it out. Um, I'm not saying never do it, 14:20 but unless they're really starting to show a lot of stress, um, it's not worth irrigating. Soybeans early 14:27 Graham, we said we're gonna talk about things that have been, uh, takeaways and big benefits in learning. Uh, he's in its eighth year. 14:35 What have you learned about going to that part of the world that, is that your first system you put in, in that part of, uh, Iowa? 14:41 It was, yeah, that was the first part in that part of Iowa in that extreme of a terrain, you know, lot of hills. Uh, definitely learned a lot, um, 14:50 about designing systems and getting them to hold together and not blow apart. And, um, yeah, 14:56 there's definitely some challenges when you have 110 pounds of pressure at the well. But just, yeah, I think one of the things that, you know, 15:01 working with Kelly and thinking about where we started, I think Kelly's dry land production would've been what, 200 2230 bushel when we started and, 15:12 and now where are we? Right? Like where, how did we get that extra 70 and 80 bushel? And just thinking about how that journey's, um, how that journey's gone. 15:21 If you're grabbing extra 30 or 35% of yield, how long does it take you, Kelly, speaking of the eight year thing, is the system paid for by now? 15:29 Cause we're gonna be, you know, we're gonna be an open book here at extreme ag. Is the system paid for by now? 15:34 Yeah, the system's absolutely paid for by now. At that time we figured a six year payback and then with a couple dry years in there and increased a better corn market. Uh, 15:43 it probably paid for itself for four years. Four years. Is that what you tell people Kurt? Uh, we say three. We say five to seven. If the Yeah, if corn market's hot, 15:53 you're gonna pay for it in less than less than five even. Yep. What else? 15:57 What else do you think the person that's contemplating putting in something like this? So he's got eight years of experience. We heard, uh, water quality, 16:03 you gotta understand that before we can make this system work. We heard micronutrients, we heard then stability on, on a bad year. 16:10 I can use this to justify, you know, marketing, et cetera. And then we just chatted a little bit about, um, 16:15 the putting the system in out there and then we talked about the economics. Gimme one last thing I'm gonna get outta here. 16:20 Um, added land value, I mean, just the, the thing of going, just going from dry land to irrigated immediately you get an increase in book 16:27 value and appraised value and, and land value. So it's, uh, I mean you, you win on all fronts. Um, and, 16:33 and being able to add value to the land you already own the a depreciable, um, 16:40 improvement that you can put on land you already own versus going out and buying more land in today's market just seems like it. It is, it's, 16:48 it's a no-brainer for guys that that have water. So, uh, that's where it all starts. Find the water and, 16:54 All right. By the way, Kelly, he's with Nutri Drip, so obviously he's all for it. Gimme one negative. You know, in livestock judging Kurt, if you took livestock judging, 17:01 you've always gotta say something positive, something positive, but then you gotta give 'em something negative and then something positive on 17:06 the way out the door so the kid will come back next year. Basically, it's how it is. We've done some positives now, gimme a negative. 17:11 Is there anything, is there anything honestly in the eight years that you're like, man, I wish I had known this. I wish I'd have done this differently. 17:17 I wish I would've studied the water sooner. Yeah. Other than the water quality, has there been anything that was like, man, I wasn't quite anticipating this. 17:25 No, I had to buy more trucks. So it, it made you more yield, made you more yield, but now obviously when you think about this, 17:33 this is part of intensive agriculture, you just put a picture out the other day of Evans your, uh, agronomist and my, my buddy, uh, 17:41 who was holding up a soybean on intensively managed agriculture. So this is absolutely the epitome of intensively managed agriculture. 17:50 It's you're controlling Yeah. Very intensive management, controlling the fertility, controlling the water, uh, right down to the acre. 17:58 Right down to the gallon of water. Absolutely. It doesn't get more intensive than this. So where I see this thing working out even better and, 18:04 and you're not quite there, but when we were at ag PhD last year, we talked about using this as, uh, as a, uh, 18:11 accoutrement as an accessory along with livestock. So you've got your, your, your livestock, uh, lagoons. 18:19 You can't run straight liquid manure through this because it's a touch too chunky. 18:24 But this is absolutely works even better for if you've got a hog facility, dairy facility down the road, 18:31 you can make this work for free fertilizer as well as the water. Yes. Right. So we're doing a lot of work now, taking um, 18:38 solids out of manure and just taking the liquid portion of the manure and uh, and injecting that into the drip system along with water, um, 18:46 to apply it to the field during the growing season. So lots of options. Um, every livestock facility has a different manure system, 18:54 so we've got different options for lagoons, deep pits, dairy, swine beef, um, but definitely, definitely an option. 19:01 And when you sell it to them, when you sell it to them, it's not just irrigation then obviously there is some fertility even in the, in the stuff. The solids have a bunch of it, 19:08 but the liquid has a good amount too. Yes It does. Yeah. Nitrogen, potassium, pretty much all stay in the liquid. About 30% of the phosphorus is in the, in the solids. 19:17 So Kurt, you called it manure, like it's got an e w E R, like it's newer versus older. 19:23 I call it manure because when I look at the word pure Sure. Uh, a fishing lure, I don't know which one is it? What are you going with? 19:31 I've always thought you said it weird, Damien. I always thought you didn't pronounce the second syllable there or something. It's manure. I just thought it was like an eastern time zone. 19:40 Like manure. Yeah. What if I wanted to make you feel confident? I wanted to assure you what if I wanted to tell you that it's 19:48 Not all words are pronounced the same. Damien, that's the mystery of the English language. I'm Damian Mason. 19:54 I'm gonna wrap this up right here and we're gonna talk about the English language. After I stop the recording, I've got Kurt Grim from Nutri Drip. 19:59 If they wanna learn more about this, Kurt, where do they go? Uh, nutra drip do com. We've got a lot on our website. 20:05 We also have the YouTube page with a lot of content on it as well. That's nutra His name is Kurt Grim. 20:11 The other guy here is Kelly Garrett, who apparently is part-time, uh, offers, you know, tutorial in the English language. Until next time, 20:19 this is extreme ag cutting the curve. Thanks for being Here. Thanks for listening to another edition of Cutting the Curve. For more insights and information that you can apply to your farming operation, 20:28 visit Extreme Are your crops stressed out? Ag Explorer has you covered with a full line of products designed to reduce crop stress and improve yields. 20:38 Check out ag and start protecting your yields and topics.

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