About a year ago, Nebraska Farmer carried an article about a northeast Nebraska farmer who had adopted and was testing variable rate irrigation technology on a center pivot system. He said favorable corn and soybean prices in recent years made it possible for him to invest in this emerging technology. Its use saved him both water and energy.
We've heard that response from more than one Nebraska producer during our farm visits. It's an indication that making a profit will, in most cases, lead to more adoption of resource stewardship practices.
Variable rate irrigation technology was one of the management practices getting considerable attention at a two-day workshop I recently attended in Kearney. The Central States Irrigation Association, covering Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, holds the gathering. It rotates the conference among the three states, and this year was Nebraska's turn.
The world of applying water to crops has changed dramatically over the years, in Nebraska and the High Plains. Challenges of drought, limited water supplies and government regulations are pushing university researchers, irrigation companies and farmers themselves to come up with technologies and practices to apply water at the right time and in the right amounts.
Last year's drought and the intense heat forced farmers to apply more water than normal to maintain their crops. It may not have been the most efficient use of water, but it was a necessity.
The irrigation technology being refined today is nothing short of amazing. During the conference I sat through sessions on how and when to use limited water supplies and on precision monitoring equipment that allows checking and control of multiple pivots from the home computer or cell phone. Variable rate irrigation was another popular topic during the conference.
VRI allows a pivot to apply water in different amounts--based on factors such as soil types, slope and other features of a field—as it rotates around the field. It does so in two ways. The first is speed control—simply speeding up or slowing down of the pivot as it makes its rotation. For instance, the pivot can speed up over finely textured soils that have good water-holding capacities and slow down over coarser, sandy soils that don't hold water as well.