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1 Jul 20Premium Content

“Water is my biggest limiting factor, man, if I only had irrigation, I could really raise that yield bar.” I hear that a lot from growers I visit with while at trade shows and field days.  "It would just be so much easier with irrigation!"

I’m not going to tell you that being able to control your water delivery doesn’t help you sleep better at night, because it does. But, irrigation is far from the “sure thing” some think it is, and it often ends up exposing your other more serious yield limiting factors.   

Here are a few things to consider before installing irrigation. 

Is your soil type one that is dry natured or is it on the wet side? Those areas that concern you in higher rain fall years must be tiled, and even some of your drier soils may need tile as well. 

Maximizing your yields under irrigation means keeping the soils just below saturation level. Ideally you want to achieve maximum moisture and maximum oxygen to create excellent root growth and plant development. This of course means it’s imperative that you understand the saturation levels of your different soil types in the field. Both pivot irrigation and drip irrigation allow for variable rates of irrigation based on the different soil types in your field. 

But, by far the worst thing a new irrigated field can get in my opinion is ATTITUDE! 

A farmer is already successful in producing strong yields with the help of timely natural rainfall and as soon as they install irrigation they ramp up the populations as if they are going for a new yield record.


Instead, you need to learn how your soils react to irrigation and how the crop responds.  I always advise that farmers with new systems treat the first year as a non-irrigated crop and get to know your soil and learn how much irrigation changes the soil composition and growing conditions.  Applying regular water to soils that are not used to consistent moisture can significantly alter the way roots and nutrients interact. It may promote the movement of certain nutrients that you did not know were there or wake up biologicals that never thrived under dry land conditions. The biological make up of your soil might change with the addition of regular water, so slow down, observe and learn to manage the system based on crop response in that first year. If you make a mistake or have equipment failure you will still have a better crop than the non-irrigated field!

Irrigated crops are awesome to watch grow and push to consistent levels of production and it’s easy to get caught up in yield increases. But, at the end of the day, it's about return on investment.  So taking a 28,000 final harvest population and reaching 295 bpa might be a better ROI for your farm than pushing for higher yields. 

Learning the sweet spots for population, fertigation, and water management strategies is a lot to do in one year, so I strongly encourage that in the first year of a new irrigation system you farm like you always have and focus on learning to manage the water and fertigation needs of your crop first. Through irrigation, you will create a connection with your soil and crop that you never had before, which in turn will allow you to raise the bar on population once you have a solid understanding of your soil and crop response. You may just find out that those big yields don’t require as many plants as you once thought!

We will be sharing member videos this year on our irrigation strategies with the hope of helping our members with their challenges.  The team has extensive experience in pivot, subsurface drip and furrow irrigation and we are sharing our experience this season with al of our members.

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