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Drip Irrigation

Could It Be The Right Option For Your Operation?


While everything may not always be bigger in Texas, there are a few west Texas cotton farmers who have invested in sub-surface drip irrigation (SDI) and gained impressive yield increases.

“Some Texas producers are reducing year-to-year yield variability with SDI, especially in water-limited areas where an arid environment is the norm,” says Ed Barnes, director of agricultural research for Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C.

After hearing of this success, cotton farmers in some not-so-arid regions of the Cotton Belt are considering SDI as a way to bump up their yields. To address these concerns, Cotton Incorporated has sponsored research projects to deliver advice for producers in the Mid-South and the Southeast.

Six of the eight projects are funded by Cotton Incorporated, and the other two are funded by the Georgia and Alabama Cotton Commissions.

Advantages Of SDI

SDI definitely provides a more efficient use of water by limiting evaporation in the early season when cotton’s canopy doesn’t shade the soil. There are two significant reasons SDI should be considered: Its ability to improve the productivity of a usually unproductive field, and thanks to GPS technology, the flexible piping used in SDI systems allows producers to farm uneven or odd-shaped fields.

In some soil types (clays or those with restrictive layers), drip tubing can even be set between every other row to reduce the overall system cost.

“With SDI, nitrogen can also be spoon fed, which can definitely improve nitrogen-use efficiency and probably reduce nitrogen requirements,” says Barnes.

He warns that knowledge of your water’s chemistry is critical, especially when local water has high levels of iron, calcium or magnesium, which will result in the need for constant acid injection to keep the tubing clear.

“If you think you’re just going to get 200 to 300 pounds of yield from a good field, SDI probably won’t pay for itself,” says Barnes.

“However, if you have poor soil in a sandy, unproductive field and you think your yields could be doubled or perhaps even tripled, SDI may be a great option.”

Barnes also advises that if field contours prohibit the use of center pivot systems, SDI can provide frequent in-season irrigation, which can reduce yield loss traditionally associated with nematode infestations.

Decision Aid Coming

Cotton Incorporated will be releasing an irrigation investment “Decision Aid” in the near future that will help cotton farmers evaluate all of the aforementioned factors for their respective operations. The decision aid will allow producers to compare the investment costs of three irrigation systems (furrow, center pivot and sub-surface drip) to any anticipated yield increases from irrigation with each of the systems to help determine if any of the systems would be a profitable addition to their farming operation.

The Cotton Board, which administers the Cotton Research and Promotion Program conducted by Cotton Incorporated, provided information for this article.

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