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The Next Best Thing To Rain Is Irrigation

carroll smith

Carroll Smith

During a recent conversation with West Texas cotton producer Shawn Holladay, he said, “There’s nothing that makes you look like a better farmer than a good rain.” Although no one will argue against rain being the lifeblood of farming, sometimes Mother Nature is stingy with her water.

When there is not a cloud in the sky or a hint of rain in the forecast, the next best thing is irrigation to get the cotton crop rolling and sustain its viability. Across the Belt, farmers use different irrigation methods — including pivots, flood and drip — to deliver precious water to their thirsty cotton crop. Irrigation scheduling tools are helpful in determining when to initiate the process, how much water to put out and when to terminate irrigation after it’s no longer economically feasible.

Holladay uses a low energy precision application (LEPA) system on his irrigated acres. LEPA reduces evaporation into the air and increases the amount of water available to the plant, which contributes to greater efficiency. Read more on page 8 about the role the LEPA system plays in Holladay’s Dawson County, Texas, operation, especially in a year like this one characterized by extreme heat and high winds during the planting season.

In the Southeast, rains during the second half of May set up a variable crop scenario where individual fields reach particular growth stages at different times. On page 10, North Carolina cotton specialist Guy Collins says, “Most folks probably do not want to hear about watering cotton at this point due to the excessive rains many areas received. However, it is important to note that our sandier soils do not hold moisture for long.”

He goes on to explain how timely irrigation using appropriate rates can promote and manage early maturity. Collins also shows how the checkbook method of irrigation works and shares a few points based on his experience with agronomic irrigation research. He also notes that irrigating before wilting occurs is necessary to achieve optimal yields.

Although irrigation can never replicate the benefits of a good rain that falls at the right time, it’s a tool farmers can use to fill in the water gaps when Mother Nature is unwilling to cooperate.