Optimizing Irrigation Water In Oklahoma

Cotton Incorporated Focuses On Four-Prong Approach
Shelley Heinrich
Slaton, Texas

Water and irrigation management are among the most essential production practices for growing cotton today. The limited amount of rainfall typical in the Southern Plains region of the United States Cotton Belt makes producers in that area especially keen to understand the complexities of water-use efficiency.

Cotton Incorporated has been involved in water research for more than 40 years. The current focus of Cotton Incorporated’s water research is a four-pronged approach and includes:

→ Maximizing rainfall capture.

Optimizing irrigation water use.

Increasing plant water productivity.

Evaluate data with credible metrics.

Slowing Water Delivery

Through core funding and State Support Program funding, Cotton Incorporated is implementing research to address water management in the Southern Plains.

Researchers make use of a moisture sensor on the Oklahoma State Support Program demonstration field while studying the velocity of water delivery.

Many Southern Plains producers use center-pivot irrigation systems to irrigate and supplement the rainwater for their cotton fields. One project funded through the Oklahoma State Support Program looked at the benefits of slowing down water delivery when using pivot irrigation. This field demonstration study, led by Dr. Jason Warren, associate professor at Oklahoma State University, slowed pivot irrigation to deliver .8 to 1.2 inches of water per revolution before the cotton needed moisture uptake. In-field evaluation of the slowed-down delivery showed an immediate increase in plant physiology and health.

Oklahoma cotton producer Reid Nichols participated in the project and was excited about what he saw when they slowed the pivots down. “I noticed more uniformity across the field, and the slower pivot irrigation seemed to improve the boll load. We also noticed that the maintenance on the pivot decreased. We had to do less work on the center drives and gearboxes. We also had fewer flat tires. Once we started seeing the changes in the demonstration fields, we started slowing down all our pivots, which made a huge difference,” he said.

Irrigation Monitoring

Another question that is always top-of-mind when using pivot irrigation is when to stop the irrigation. In the project’s demonstration field, the irrigation termination decision was much easier to ascertain due to the better overall crop conditions.

Nichols highlighted the importance of this kind of research. “When you farm in Southwest Oklahoma, you know that irrigation management is going to be a key focus year in and year out,” he said. “The work that Cotton Incorporated is funding at OSU with irrigation monitoring is huge for producers in my area, especially in a summer like this one.”

Innovative new technologies and management systems can improve the ease and accuracy with which growers determine and respond to cotton’s water needs. Cotton Incorporated supports new and ongoing research each year. In 2023 alone, researchers across the U.S. worked myriad projects that advance easier and more accurate ways to determine and respond to cotton’s water needs.  

Shelley Heinrich is the Cotton Board Southern Plains regional communication manager. Email her at sheinrich@cottonboard.org.

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