U.S. Water News Online
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Gary Clark knows just how precious water
is, particularly to farmers. And he knows that in times like this,
when it's dry and getting drier by the day in Kansas and other
states, making the most efficient use of moisture is of the utmost
That's why this year -- and so many years in the High Plains --
it's important for producers to make sure their irrigation systems
are performing as intended, providing uniform moisture to the areas
they are supposed to, said Clark, who is a professor of irrigation
and water management with Kansas State University's Department of
Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
"If they're [producers] growing corn, an inch of water can
translate to 10 bushels of corn," Clark said.
To ensure irrigation systems are working properly and to develop
an educational program about effective irrigation and cropping
systems in general, K-State Research and Extension faculty, with
supportive funding provided by the Kansas Water Office, developed the
Mobile Irrigation Lab (MIL).
The Kansas Corn Commission has also joined in to help fund the
project. The K-State Research and Extension MIL team includes
specialists with expertise in irrigation system design and
management, crop water management, agronomic cropping systems, and
computer programming and software development.
"To our knowledge there are no other educational programs like
this," said Clark, who is the MIL project coordinator. "Our first
role is to provide education, and technical assistance comes next."
The idea, Clark said, is not for the MIL to evaluate all
irrigation systems in Kansas.
"There are thousands of producers out there. We can't hit them all
-- our funding and resources are limited," he said. "Our preference
is to develop and field test the technology to make it possible for
private companies, consultants, cooperatives, and individuals to do
this kind of testing."
The MIL hit the road in the summer of 2001, and since then has
conducted 15 hands-on, computer-based educational training sessions
on irrigation scheduling for over 250 people and has conducted
several on-site field tour and performance evaluations of center
pivot irrigation systems
Housed in an 8-by-16-foot trailer, the back part carries tools to
evaluate center pivot systems. Up front, the portable classroom is
equipped with laptop computers that are used to provide hands-on
training for individuals with KanSched, an evapotranspiration (ET)-
based irrigation scheduling program developed by K-State Research and
Extension irrigation engineers and specialists.
"Irrigation scheduling is the determination of when and how much
water to apply to meet specific management goals," Clark said. "Most
often in Kansas, that means trying to maintain yield potential
without [wasting] irrigation water by applying just enough water at
the right time."
Training for a few individuals can occur on-site at a farmstead or
even on the edge of an irrigated field in the mobile classroom. But,
if needed, a hands-on educational session with the computers can also
be set up in a larger meeting room in whatever community the lab is
"Another part of what we do is give farmers information on their
center pivot systems. What we're finding is that many of the systems
are not applying water uniformly," Clark said.
Seemingly small factors such as an incorrectly installed or
improperly-sized nozzle are sometimes the culprit. But even on new
systems, the sprinkler packages have been incorrectly installed. With
these errors over time, too much or too little water can make a
sizeable yield and economic difference.
The lab is equipped with IrriGages -- water collection devices
developed by K-State to evaluate the uniformity of center pivots. The
gages are built to capture water from rainfall or sprinklers and
because of the design, just 1 percent or less of evaporation loss
occurs, compared with losses of over 50 percent in a single day for
traditional rain gages.
That allows more time for the person collecting the gage data to
get into the field. One hundred or more IrriGages are currently used
to evaluate the uniformity of a center pivot system. But the MIL team
is developing simpler and more manageable techniques to make the
evaluation process easier and yet still reliable.
The major cost of irrigating is the cost of the energy to pump the
water to the field, Clark said. Computer software is also available
for growers to determine an energy cost performance evaluation.
The farmer inputs data such as the type of power unit used --
typically diesel, electric or natural gas -- and along with a few
other inputs about their irrigation system, the Fuel Cost Evaluation
computer program can give an indication of the cost to apply one inch
of water to an area, he said. Generally that cost is $2 to $5 per
acre for each inch of water.
"So, when a farmer can save several inches of water through
irrigation scheduling, that can translate into $1,000 or $2,000 of
energy costs for a quarter section system. That's a substantial
economic savings," Clark said.
He cited a case where a central Kansas farmer enlisted his
15-year- old daughter to do the scheduling for 14 center pivot
irrigation systems. By inputting information regarding the field's
soil type, crop characteristics (crop type, planting date, etc.) and
by tracking water distributed over the fields by rainfall and
irrigation along with estimated crop water use from a local automated
weather station, the family estimated it saved enough money in fuel
costs and other cost incentives to pay for two years of their
daughter's future tuition at Kansas State University.
For more information on the Mobile Irrigation Lab, interested
persons can visit
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