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.
McGuire said installing drip irrigation in the Northeast Texas Blacklands, mostly on acreage that had been in pasture or woods for decades, provided challenges he doesn’t see in West Texas.
“It took a lot of field work,” he says. “We found a lot of shallow rock, tree stumps, and old fence lines. Barbed wire does not work well with drip tape.”
Design was critical to provide the best system to fit challenging locations. “Slope was an issue. We had to work with hills and valleys. That required pressure compensating emitters that maintain the same flow rate up or down a slope.”
He says field shapes also created design challenges. “We don’t see square fields here. But we make it work. We try to figure out the most cost-effective drip system we can. We establish row patterns to make it easier for Jeff to install and manage. We may have limitations within a field, but we work around them. We keep it as simple as possible to install and provide the best system for the lowest cost.”
GPS technology was a crucial part of the process. Fowler and his crew install the tape—for both time and cost considerations—which saves about $50 per acre. “Cy taught us how to install it. We use RTK technology and John Deere’s GreenStar. It’s accurate to one inch, so we know exactly where the tape is.”
Fowler is meticulous about tape location. “I get it set up, put it on a memory card and download it onto my computer. Then I put it into my phone and keep it with me all the time. I make certain I have tape locations.”
GPS also aids design, McGuire says. “Elevation is particularly important here because of the slope. For every 2.3 feet of elevation change, pressure changes by 1 psi. If we go up 2.31 feet, we lose 1 psi; if we go down 2.31, we gain 1 psi. We manage pressure within the system.”
“We often ask Cy if what we’re planning will work,” Fowler says. “And we change our minds a lot. Cy deals with it.”
Installation offers Fowler’s crew a few challenges, too. “We run a pre-ripper and do a dry run first,” he says. “That makes it easier to put in the tape and makes installation more uniform. The new fields come with a lot of challenges. We break off a lot of shear bolts.”
He’s selecting mostly high ground for drip irrigation. “We will not plant alfalfa on bottom land,” he says. “It drowns out too often. Alfalfa likes water, but it can’t sit in soils that are saturated for extended periods of time. We don’t plant our bottom lands because they don’t drain as well. I plant the hills because water will drain.”