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Drip irrigation saves corn during drought

In the worst stretch of drought in Texas history with extreme heat and winds, a Texas corn grower’s 2011 crop was saved by drip irrigation.

David Carthel, a Parmer County agricultural producer, found success in his newly installed drip irrigation system on a 70-acre cornfield.

Carthel realized the need to conserve resources for future crops well before tackling the drought-stricken year, while still maintaining, or increasing, yield. Drip irrigation made it happen.

He says the greatest hurdle in growing corn with drip irrigation is getting moisture to the seed to initiate growth. With this in mind, he watered his cornfield in three separate sections, fully utilizing his water resources in each to get adequate moisture to seed. While this meant three separate growth stages, it gave Carthel’s field the growth it needed, and the ability to survive the drought.

Key Points

Drip irrigation was salvation for Texas corn grower’s crop.

Drip conserved water while producing an even higher corn yield.

Corn grower will expand his dripirrigation in his cornfields.

The corn progressed at a normal pace, while producers with neighboring fields were forced to divert water off crops to move resources elsewhere. He notes the cornfield fared much better than his other fields on sprinklers or other irrigation methods.

Carthel attributes the success to drip putting moisture directly where the plant needs it in the root zone, reducing moisture loss to evaporation.

At harvest, Carthel’s drip-irrigated corn yielded 30% better than his fields using alternative irrigation methods.

“I can tell by this year [2011], there won’t be a year worse, harder and more challenging than this year to get a crop up,” Carthel says. “And my drip proves that you can do it.”

Teaming up with NRCS

His success with drip has persuaded him to work with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to further expand drip in his farming.

NRCS offers technical assistance to producers in developing conservation plans and helping producers in conserving groundwater and improving water quality. Carthel utilized NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program to install his drip irrigation system in 2011.

The Texas Corn Producers offers a series of four brief videos following Carthel’s drip-irrigated cornfield from its beginning to harvest. To view the videos, go to

This article published in the March, 2012 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.