Variable-rate irrigation helps conserve water

Ed Lammers wants to preserve his land and be a good steward. The Cedar County farmer is now using variable-rate irrigation as another stewardship tool in accomplishing his conservation goals on his rolling farm ground with highly variable soil types.

Lammers, who farms 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs 150 stock cows west of Hartington, began irrigating part of his farm in 2009.

At a glance

Cedar County farmer utilizes variable-rate irrigation to improve his soil.

Grid sampling, mapping of water-holding capacity are the first steps.

Variable-rate irrigation reduces soil erosion and yield lag on lighter soils.


A new company called CropMetrics LLC used grid sampling to develop a specialized water-holding capacity map of the land. The map combines information about soil type, elevation, terrain on north and south slopes, and the water-holding capacity of the ground at a depth of 1 to 3 feet.

Using the map and an irrigation recipe CropMetrics developed for the fields, the Zimmatic center-pivot irrigation system was sped up on heavier soils with higher water-holding capacity to apply less water and slowed down on lighter soils with lower water-holding capacity to apply more water — all to decrease yield variability.

Controlling the variables

“I am trying to eliminate one of the variables that I can possibly control,” Lammers says. “There are so many variables that we can’t control. If we can control plant population, irrigation and fertilizer, we can make our acres more profitable. With the grain prices we have now, it allows producers to go out and look for areas where we can be more efficient” and then invest in improvements in those areas.

“Profitability is important,” he says. Variable-rate irrigation has helped reduce yield lag on his lighter soils by 70%. The added benefits of watering according to the water-holding capacity of the soils are reduced erosion and water runoff and overall improvement in the land.

“That’s probably one of the most important things about it,” Lammers says. “I am proud to be a farmer, and I am a servant of the land. I want to preserve it and try to do the best I can for the land.”

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MAKING IMPROVEMENTS: Ed Lammers of Hartington says higher grain prices allow producers to invest in equipment and practices that save water and control erosion.

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.