Planning for irrigation expansion starts now

High commodity prices and short stints of drought have many producers thinking about expanding irrigation.

Aerial view of field with lines showing where irrigation could reach.
Whether your plan leads you to drip irrigation or center pivots, low equipment availability and inflating price indicates the need for an early start at planning.

Early September has traditionally been the time of year that irrigation equipment is at its lowest prices and the most incentives are available. High commodity prices and short stints of drought have many producers thinking about expanding irrigation.

Industrial shortages of steel and plastics have irrigation equipment in short supply. Many irrigation suppliers are struggling to find underground plastic pipe to put in this fall. With the slow restart of manufacturing, things like wire and electronics are not on the shelves for many projects. All of these challenges add up to the need for a greater amount of planning and time to have an irrigation system ready to run next spring.

The demand for irrigation wells and water supplies have many well drillers booking into next year for installations. Michigan’s large volume water use registration process and the site-specific review system have the potential to slow down many projects. Starting early and having a detailed project plan can help avoid having one loose end that keeps you from starting up irrigation in the spring.

Irrigation offers a tremendous advantage to help germinate or water up a crop in a dry spell in the spring. New irrigation systems should be planned with a completion date prior to spring field work for best success and the least stress to both the crop and producers.

Recent discussions with a half dozen irrigation equipment suppliers in Indiana and Michigan found that equipment prices have increased 23-28% from fall 2019, depending on size and availability of the components needed. These higher costs for new irrigation systems make it even more important to have a plan that includes a solid economic analysis of the ability for the system to pay for itself. In most cases, this will include changes to crop rotation and potentially the addition of high value specialty crops or vegetables in the rotation, all of which takes coordination and time.

The only way to increase time for a project to come together is to start early. If you have questions about irrigation expansion, I would be glad to hear from you. Michigan State University Extension and Purdue University Extension have a checklist for irrigation planning that many producers find helpful. This resource, other irrigation related information, and my contact information are available on the MSU Extension Irrigation website.

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