While surge-valves and poly-pipe irrigation is nothing new for many South Texas farmers, a demonstration of the technology at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco this Friday will offer their first ever view of the valves in action.

"For so many years South Texas was extremely lucky to have very few water issues thanks to the comprehensive canal and pumping systems along the Rio Grande River from Mission to Brownsville. But with less water and extended droughts, water has become a serious issue in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and there is a real need for better irrigation technology in South Texas," said Tom McLemore, manager at the Harlingen Irrigation District.

The district was involved in a 2011-2012 Texas A&M University study titled the Agricultural Water Conservation Demonstration Initiative (ADI project), which illustrated the need for the Valley to move toward a state-of-the-art water distribution network management and on-farm, cost-effective irrigation program to maximize surface water use efficiency.

High-cost water

"Many Valley growers have been forced to purchase water out of district this year and in recent years because of water shortages and that adds significantly to the cost of irrigation each year. But worse is to find out there just isn't enough water to go around, so looking at a better system of using and managing the water available to us is our best hope of conserving our natural resources," he added.

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About 30 Valley growers are being encouraged to participate in a program that will allow them to purchase surge-valves at an extremely discounted price if they attend one of two workshops designed to provide an orientation in proper use of the technology.

This Friday, area wide farmers are invited to a demonstration of the water-saving devices at the research center where irrigation engineers will provide an overview of the benefits and cost savings possible by using surge-valve and poly pipe technology.

“We’ll have a surge-valve set up in one of our grain sorghum field plots where we’ll demonstrate how it works, then we will have a question-and-answer session to discuss the pros and cons,” says Dr. Juan Anciso, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service fruit and vegetable specialist at the center.

The demonstration is being presented by AgriLife Extension, the Texas Water Resources Institute and the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority.

Drought change

Valley irrigation officials say the cost of surge-valves and the ability and ease of access and purchase of irrigation water at affordable prices have kept many Valley growers from taking a great interest in any new irrigation technologies. But droughts, international water treaty issues and expanding water needs of cities and other industries in the Valley are causing growers to take notice of the coming water shortage.

In 2010, as part of the larger study, a furrow versus surge valve technology demonstration

associated with the ADI project was completed in the Valley to analyze potential water application and irrigation costs scenarios in cotton production.

The study revealed that as water prices rise and water availability becomes more of an issue, the cost of purchasing and changing over to surge valve irrigation would be cost effective because it reduces overall water usage and will help to reduce production costs.

The key to success of surge-valve technology are the alternating pulses of water to different parts of a field to provide more even and efficient distribution, according to Dr. Juan Enciso, the Texas A&M AgriLife Research irrigation engineer at Weslaco.

The Surge Valve Cooperative, an initiative of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority, which is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is accepting applications from up to 32 growers interested in surge valves at a discounted special grant price, according to Ashley Gregory, an AgriLife Extension assistant for water programs.

Maximum of 2 valves

“Thanks to the grant obtained by the Water Authority, the $2,000 surge valves are available to 32 participating growers at a cost of $350,” says Gregory. “They can buy up to two valves, which allow them to irrigate about 50 acres per valve.”

Participating growers must still attend training on their use on either Sept. 17 or Sept. 18.

“This is a good water conservation tool for growers who furrow irrigate with poly pipe,” Anciso said. “It can not only save water, it can also increase productivity.”

Demonstration projects conducted by the Texas Ag Water Efficiency Project documented water savings of up to 52 percent in sugarcane, 31 percent in corn and 28 percent in cotton.

There is no charge for the demonstration event, which is scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon Friday, Sept. 13, at the Hiler Research Farm in Weslaco. Take exit Mile 2 West, go north about 1 ½ miles, Hiller Farm will be on the West side of street just before you hit Mile 7 ½ N. For more information, contact Anciso or Gregory at 956-968-5581.


Other articles of interest on Southwest Farm Press:

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Drought conditions persist across Texas

Dramatic water changes coming for the Southwest