What is in this article?:
- Drip irrigation, GPS technology improve dairy farm efficiency
- Alfalfa is crop of choice
- Installation challenges
- Efficient controls
- Subsurface drip irrigation is a logical choice for producers looking to increase water use efficiency, but crop management is a crucial factor.
JEFF FOWLER, CROPS MANAGER FOR Daisy Farms, a dairy and crops operation near Paris, Texas, helps set up a drip tape plow to install subsurface drip irrigation.
Alfalfa is crop of choice
Alfalfa is the current crop of choice for drip irrigation. Eventually, Fowler will water corn and some bermudagrass with a drip system. “Alfalfa is our biggest expense, so we will grow as much as we can. Round-up ready varieties help. Along with adequate water, weed control is a big concern with alfalfa.”
He’s been watering 600 acres of alfalfa, most of that through the drip system, with 250 acres under a pivot. “The pivot was a stop-gap measure to get us started,” he says. Long-term plans call for additional acreage watered by drip irrigation. “The number keeps growing,” he says.
Dairy cow numbers and increasing feed demand will influence how many acres of drip irrigation will be necessary.
He got six cuttings last year, starting in April and cutting into October. “We kept going until a freeze hit. We’re in good shape this year going into spring. It greened up early and we had to spray for alfalfa weevil in February. We will be cutting hay in the next few weeks.” He hopes as he fine-tunes the system he’ll increase tonnage.
He’s also fine-tuning irrigation scheduling. “For now, we’re just checking the soil. We fill the profile and move onto another area. We will add moisture sensors and get on a more consistent schedule. As we get our control systems set up we will improve scheduling. We may need to add water daily as the summer heat comes on. With drip irrigation, we can put a little out consistently.”
“As we were getting the system in we had to work with getting water to the fields,” McGuire says. “Now, we’re concentrating on managing the system.”
Fowler says he used an evapotranspiration (ET) monitoring system for awhile to regulate water use but found he was putting too much water on. “We started eye-balling it and putting out what the crop seemed to need.” Moisture sensors and computer technology will make the system more efficient, he says.
“At Eco-Drip we’re moving into more in-season crop management,” McGuire said. “We want to provide the best tools to manage all aspects of the system—moisture, pressure, flow, and nutrients. If something gets out of the limits the manager sets up, he will know to make adjustments.”