Start planning for next year’s irrigation season now

Good planning and record keeping can improve your irrigation future.

Rethink available water - A period of drought reminds all irrigators how important an adequate and dependable irrigation water supply is. Most irrigation in Michigan and Indiana was design at a one inch per four day crop water use or roughly five gallons per minute (gpm) pumping capacity/irrigated acre. In many areas unless the producer started early or caught a lucky rainfall, pumping five gpm continually/irrigated acres was not sufficient to avoid drought stress. Shut downs from breakdowns or power brown-outs make having additional capacity an advantage.

Many irrigators are expanding their water capacity to one inch every three days (seven gpm/acre irrigated) This allow six days a week pumping to meet peak summer demands and capacity to catch up if any irrigation down time occurs. Water is a limited resource in most areas. Investigate if there is water available and if you can expand your water use within the regulations in your area.

Know water use rights - With the recent drought all segments of our communities are focusing attention on water policy/rights. Both Indiana and Michigan have registration requirements for use greater than 70 gallons per minute. In both states well water use affecting neighboring home wells may result in replacement or modification to the home well at the expense of irrigators. Depending on the surface water source irrigators maybe limited to only parcels adjacent to the water body. Learn your rights and the rules that govern water use to avoid complication when you irrigate.

Get your name on the list - The irrigation industry in Michigan and Indiana has experienced four years of accelerated expansion. There is very little excess capacity among equipment suppliers, installers or electrical power providers. Making a commitment early assures your ability to get what you want at the lowest price and on time. This is true for center pivot but also utilities and pumping equipment many other peripheral irrigation requirements. A good goal is to have new irrigation ready to run prior to the beginning of field work.

Create a list of repairs needed for each system - Turn each system on one more time, walk the system and list all the needed repairs and improvements. Check irrigation controls and stops. Inspect tires and drives. Create a plan for repairs and ideally make the repairs before tillage starts next spring.

Irrigation system uniformity evaluations - The average of the last six irrigation uniformity evaluations I reviewed suggested improvement resulting in an increase in uniformity of 11 percent. That means 11 percent less water would need to be pumped and an 11 percent lower energy bill next year. Improvements in system uniformity in the 10 -20 percent range are not uncommon resulting in lower cost and potentially better yields. Often similar improvement can be made by uniformity testing of big gun travelers, trickle and solid set irrigation systems.

Measure available flow - One surprise we have found in working on irrigation system uniformity evaluation is that many irrigators are just guessing the flow their system puts out. A system evaluation will measure your actual output and a flow meter can give you a simple, quick look at your systems output. Compare the sprinkler package criteria to your measured flow and make adjustments as needed. Many dealers have the capacity to measure irrigation flow for their clients. A good indication of a problem is if the pressure at the pivot point is greater than 10 percent different than your sprinkler package specification

Check irrigated and non-irrigated yields - Now is the time to lay the plan for future irrigation investments. Crop expenses have had tremendous increase over the last decade. Due to higher input costs it is harder to survive a drought year without irrigation. Now is the time to gather the data to decide where future irrigation investments are needed.

Explore cropping options - Now is the time to assemble a map of your irrigated fields and decide what to plant next year. We have more opportunity for irrigated crop options than we have had for nearly a decade. Investigate what options are available for your area and carefully weigh the pros and cons of new cropping opportunities.

Investigate your irrigation energy cost - Total up the energy cost for each system and divide it by the total number of acre inches applied by the system. Energy cost below $1.70 per acre inch of irrigation should be commended. Energy costs above $3.50 per acre inch of irrigation have room for improvement. If you do not have three-phase power available now is the time to investigate the options.

Work toward acquiring the lowest cost energy source available - Selection of energy source and system operating pressure requirements are the largest variables in energy cost for irrigation systems. Specific location and proximity to energy sources often limit the option for a location but when readily available the economic will most often lead to the use of three phase electricity as the energy source. Natural gas is a second but uncommon low cost option.  Propane tends to be less total expense than the more common diesel fuel used for irrigation power. Fuel/energy choice is a huge factor in irrigation expense cost can range from $1.50 to in excess of $12.00 per acre inch of water supplied.

For more information about irrigation – a profitable and sustainable use of natural resources, visit the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) St. Joseph County Portal irrigation webpage.

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