As the worst drought in 50 years gripped America’s farmland in the summer of 2012, and crop failure was rampant, three Nebraska producers reported increased soybean yields and significantly lower water use at the same time by using Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) to deliver water and nutrients directly to the roots of their crops. This was in contrast to the typical practice of applying water to the surface with gravity or sprinkler irrigation systems. In addition to improved yields and resource use efficiency (RUE), other benefits cited included an improved ability to farm in drought conditions, improved flexibility and improved convenience. In each of these case studies, the producer found SDI a worthwhile investment.
California cotton growers and water-starved fields could benefit from a conservation tillage practice not typical to this Golden State cash crop, although the practice is widely implemented and accepted elsewhere in the United States.
At Lucero Farms in Firebaugh, Calif., the decision this spring to implement no-till practices on cotton planted in western Fresno County seems a good one given a 20-percent water allocation via the State Water Project.
Loyd Jordan is a 3rd generation farmer who cultivates 3,500 acres southwest of Lubbock in Terry and Lynn counties, Texas. He irrigates 1,250 acres with pivots and, most recently, 300 acres with subsurface drip irrigation. A neighbor had tried drip and said good things about water savings, getting increased yields on fewer acres, and how easy it was to apply fertilizers and control insects. So in 2004, Jordan installed 40 acres. He liked it so much that he installed an additional 120 acres in 2007, and then another 140 acres in 2009. Now he prefers drip to the pivots he has used for so many years.
Five-bale cotton yields would impress anybody. So when West Texas Cotton Farmer, William Carlton, averaged 2,575 pounds-per acre (five bales) on his 40-acre field with subsurface drip irrigation, he was pleased to say the least.
Carlton’s drip irrigation is spaced 80 inches apart and says his 1511 cotton variety “jumped out of the ground.”