What is Irrigation Water Management?
According to the USDA’s Conservation Practice Overview, Irrigation Water Management (Code 449) is “the process of determining and controlling the volume, frequency, and application rate of irrigation water and is primarily used to manage soil moisture to promote plant growth.”
Irrigation Water Management or IWM, can also be used to optimize the application of various inputs including fertilizer, reduce erosion and runoff, and manage salts in the root zone. It’s important to note, that IWM is an annual practice which should vary by crop type and should changes each season as well as throughout the season.
What is NRCS IWM Code 449?
NRCS Conservation Practice Standard (CPS) Irrigation Water Management (Code 449) is a required component when CPS Sprinkler System (Code 442), Irrigation System, micro irrigation (Code 441), or Irrigation System, Surface and Subsurface (Code 443) are used. Practice Standard 449 provides an incentive payment for irrigation management technology and tools. For more information, visit the NRCS Irrigation Water Management webpage.
IWM is important for plant and soil health as well as water use efficiency
Poor or ineffective irrigation management often has negative impacts, not only on crop health and yield, but also can have negative environmental impacts on water resources as well as long term soil health and ultimately can decrease farm profitability and value. As water resources become more constrained across the globe, farmers and growers turn to agronomy advisors, equipment dealers, federal agencies and university extension programs for advice on new practices and technology to help them with improving irrigation management.
There are a number of technologies that growers use for IWM including above and below ground soil and plant sensors and imaging. Each of these have their various benefits, costs, and ROI. It’s important for growers to use the right technology or mix of technologies that drive farm profitability. University programs and farm competitions such as the UNL Taps program have shown that IWM processes applied produce positive outcomes using below ground sensors used such as those by AquaSpy as they guide more informed irrigation decisions that are prompted by the crop needs at that precise time in the season. IWM supported by AquaSpy below ground sensor technology allows for increased irrigation water use efficiency while delivering optimum yields for maximum farm profitability. These results have been demonstrated in multiple studies and field competitions.
IWM and Process Control
Evolved IWM processes and soil moisture monitoring technology go hand in hand. The question most farmers have is how to put that to the test? There are numerous ways to conduct a study. One way is to participate in an extension competition like TAPS or one of the regional Master Irrigator programs. Those give growers the added benefit of learning from their neighbors in real time, comparing notes and tuning processes. Other methods can be to reach out to trusted local agronomy consultants familiar with the region and technology, or the agronomy services teams at your regional cooperative or dealer. Another option is to parse out a test area and grown your own side by side comparison.
What you’ll find is that in most cases, how you irrigate today will dramatically change. Many growers are irrigating the same way in their fields for generations, pushing for maximum yield. Over time, between the soil and climate changes, the soil may not have the same holding capacity, or weather conditions are impacting the soil. Even more, salinity levels are rising as there is less beneficial rain. What all this means is that it’s even more important than ever to not just know if the top few inches of soil are wet or dry or leaves are wilting to make that important decision to turn on the pivot. It’s better to know where the active root zone is and if the water is available there as well as if the crop is actually taking up the available moisture. Once you have that complete picture, you have the elements for the process control need by IWM.
AquaSpy and Irrigation Water Management
AquaSpy has conducted yield correlated field studies that reveal the relationship between optimum soil moisture, salinity, temperature, and crop health throughout the growing season. The findings reveal new insights into how to better manage the timing of farm inputs throughout the growing season for a number of different crop types including soybeans, corn, cotton, potato, sorghum and alfalfa.
TAPS and Master Irrigator Programs
Here at AquaSpy we know that the best way for AgTech adoption to grow is for it to get into the field and into the hands of farmers so they can experience how it interacts with their crops. Now celebrating its seventh year, the real-time annual Testing Ag Performance Solutions (TAPS) Farm Management Competition is a successful peer-to-peer program that offers the ability to compare / contrast one operation with another, giving farmers direct and immediate insights into the effects of the decisions they and their peers make during the season.
In the years since it’s launch in 2017, UNL TAPS has become a model for other programs.
“The idea that Chuck, Daran, and Matt had for this program quickly became a model for extension and goes far beyond the classroom paradigm. By partnering with OSU, we have proven that it can be replicated in other locations, crops, and with differing issues, yet still provides stakeholders similar opportunities to learn from each other. I believe the model will be replicated in more locations, as the program continues,”
Krystle Rhoades, TAPS Program Manager.
AquaSpy has supported UNL TAPS from the very start. Typically the winners of the Farm Profitability challenge use AquaSpy technology to guide their winning decisions around irrigation and nutrient inputs that let’s them gain solid yields while minimizing inputs and driving farm profitability.
The success of the UNL TAPS program has spawned a number of related and similar competitions and master irrigator programs throughout the US. AquaSpy is a proud supporter of many of these programs including:
- UNL (University of Nebraska Lincoln) TAPS
- OSU TAPS/ Master Irrigator
- CSU (Colorado State) TAPS
- KS WISE
- Colorado Master Irrigator
- North Plains Master Irrigator
If you have a master irrigator or farm competition program and are looking for support, please reach out. Or, if you are interested in starting a program in your region, we’d be happy to help. Contact us today!