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Farmers learn about water efficiency at field day

News Release Distributed 06/18/14

ST. JOSEPH, La. – As water resources face the risk of declining in both quality and quantity, many farmers want to learn how to be more efficient when they irrigate. LSU AgCenter and National Resource Conservation Service experts offered them some ideas on June 17 at the Northeast Research Station Field Day in St. Joseph.

Steve Nipper, NRCS water quality specialist, told attendees about the Pipe Hole and Universal Crown Evaluation Tool (PHAUCET), which is a computer program that helps farmers determine how big holes in irrigation poly pipe should be for greatest efficiency. Users provide information about elevation changes in their field, how long their rows are and how much water they use.

The program is particularly useful for farmers whose fields are long on one end and short on the other, Nipper said. By determining an appropriately sized hole for irrigation pipe, the program helps ensure both sides of the field are evenly watered.

Because it is increasingly important to efficiently use water, farmers "should be irrigators and not waterers," said R.L. Frazier, Madison Parish extension agent. Sensors can help accomplish that goal by detecting how much water is being used and if that amount is effective for the crops being grown.

"A good rain will do way better than irrigation any day of the week … but sensors help you judge when you need to irrigate," Frazier said.

Most sensors on the market are very good, Frazier said, but they all work slightly differently. Some devices provide information via computer software while others must be checked manually.

Programmable surge valves are another tool farmers can use to enhance irrigation efficiency, said Tensas Parish extension agent Dennis Burns. Farmers tell the valve how many hours they want to water the field and how often it should switch cycles. Using that information, the valve runs water on one side of the field for the set amount of time, then swaps to the other side to ensure even wetting through the soil profile.

Burns said it is helpful to use sensors along with programmable surge valves. Sensors monitor the effectiveness of the irrigation cycles, giving users a better idea of how to program the valve cycles.

James Hendrix, an AgCenter agent in the Northeast region who works with the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, told field day participants about best management practices for water sampling. He suggested testing water in wells twice a year to make sure the quality remains acceptable for crops.

Many farmers in northern Louisiana are dealing with salinity, he said, so they must stay on top of their water quality.

The quantity of water being used is also important.

"We're in the Mississippi alluvial basin," Hendrix said. "We always think because we have the Mississippi River, it's recharging us. Actually, only 15 percent of the water we have underground comes from that river. The rest of it comes from rainfall, so we want to make sure we protect our water quality and conserve water."

Olivia McClure

Last Updated: 6/18/2014 2:25:15 PM

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