Corn research aims for water savings — Ag Journal

From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

Farmers and agribusiness professionals got the chance to kick the tires recently on several related research projects during a meeting and tour held at Wray, Colorado. Corn harvest, which started roughly a week and a half ahead of normal in the area, was already under way in surrounding fields.

In addition to discussing progress on drought tolerant hybrids, the group heard from private crop consultant Chad Godsey, of Eckley, who is looking into the amount of potential water savings from variable rate irrigation…

Mark Sponsler, the association’s executive director, praised the project, saying it was right in line with heightened concerns about resource management by farmers, rural communities and the general public.

In fact, Colorado Corn is launching a new farm stewardship award this year, to be presented at the association’s annual meeting and banquet Dec. 7 in Yuma. The honor will include a $10,000 cash award and an expense paid trip to the next annual Commodity Classic, which brings together leading producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum.

In a field at Rogers Farm south of Wray, Godsey pointed to an irrigation tower outfitted with a variable rate motor. Blue valves mounted at the top of each drop nozzle shut on and off independently as the unit crosses the field. Godsey said he was using a soil texture grid map along with six soil moisture probes and an on-site weather station to set up his irrigation scheduling.

“I’m confident we can save 15 percent on our water use compared to just straight irrigation, and I think our savings in sandy soils could be even better,” he said. “We’ve been pumping less than we historically have, and last year we did not see it affect our yield at all.”

Eventually, he hopes to test his theory in a year when rainfall is more limited.

He is also evaluating the impact of various water and fertilizer rates throughout the growing season and the effect of higher seeding rates on irrigation demand.

One of the challenges to adopting variable rate technology is cost. Jim Williams, the president of J&J Irrigation in Wray, estimated that variable rate technology nearly doubles the cost of a new center-pivot, which starts at around $60,000. In some cases, financial incentives are available through programs like the National Resource Conservation Service’s EQIP or from rural electric cooperatives, which can help defray the costs.

Recognizing the need for cost containment in the current economic environment, a team from USDA’s Ag Research Service in Fort Collins has been working to identify an affordable tool for diagnosing water stress and pinpointing precisely when irrigation applications are needed…

something new has come on the market, the FLIR One thermal imaging device. For around $200, it attaches to an Android or Mac smartphone and effectively turns it into a thermal imaging camera.

To enhance the use of the device, they also showed off two low-cost, easy-to-build accessories. A “selfie stick” for mounting the camera-phone allows them to vary the angle of photos taken from above the canopy. A simple shade-measuring tool, made by applying strips of tape to a plain white plastic pipe, can be laid on the ground under the plants and used to help judge canopy thickness.

“It’s a cheap way of getting true facts about your field,” Willi said.

Sponsler suggested the monitoring technique could be used to complement readings from soil moisture probes, which are expensive to install. He could also see it becoming popular among crop consultants who need quick and easy ways to monitor crop conditions in multiple fields.

He also noted that incorporating it with CSU’s corn hybrid trials might help researchers collect more data about the how plants respond to various growing conditions throughout the season.

flironethermalimagingdevice

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