Producers who have already selected a cropping mix should consider no-till or limited tillage operations as part of their water management this season. Each tillage pass could potentially remove 0.5 to 0.75 inch of moisture from the profile.
"These management practices can leave more water in the soil for to produce a crop. In some instances a tillage operation will be necessary for seedbed preparation or weed management. Consider strip-tillage for planting operations in order to leave the crop residue in place," Stone points out.
For producers who have limited amounts of water, another tool to consider is deficit irrigation, a strategy where the producer uses stored soil moisture and in-season precipitation to get the crop established and growing through vegetative stages. The majority of the irrigation water is then applied during the reproductive and grain-fill stages of the crop.
Other water management tools are soil water sensors and ETgages, Stone says. Soil water sensors are placed in the field of the growing crop at different depths relative to the root zone of the crop. The producer takes readings from the sensors every two to four days to determine how much soil moisture is available for the crop and how much irrigation is needed to fill the soil profile.
ETgages, also called atmometers, are instruments that simulate the evapotranspiration of an alfalfa crop. Readings from ETgages are taken weekly and used to estimate the crop water use for that week based on the given crop and crop growth stage. The producer can then know how much irrigation water to apply to each field to replace the water used by the crop.