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Agricultural News

Variable Rate Irrigation: Not a One Size Fits All Technology

Wed, 19 Aug 2015 19:12:15 CDT

Variable Rate Irrigation:  Not a One Size Fits All Technology New technology aims to reduce the amount of water used by irrigators. One of those tools is through the use of Variable Rate Irrigation. This allows farmers to develop a water prescription based on a field's water needs and production potential. Switching to VRI is a large investment for farmers or landowners. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist Charles Hillyer said the technology pays off in certain situations, like in fields with poor producing areas.

"Generally speaking, it's going to work best in fields that are very variable," Hillyer said. "So, if you have big variations in holding capacity, big variations in slope or big variations in soil depth, that's where VRI is going to be most useful."

VRI also works well for farmers dealing with regulatory challenges like having land located near a lake or body of water. When farmers can't spray or chemigate a field because of a nearby tributary, he said VRI can be very valuable in those situations.

In speaking at the Oklahoma Irrigation Conference Tuesday at Fort Cobb, Hillyer shared his experience with VRI. He led a research project in Oregon in 2013 and found there are some challenges in adopting VRI. Part of that is the availability of internet and cell signal in rural areas. Hillyer said the biggest challenge is integration, in how well the various aspects of the system work together.

Proponents of VRI will tout the savings of the technology in terms of water and energy. In Oregon, Hillyer found the maximum potential savings could be as high as 45 percent, but the field test found the savings was closer to five and half percent per rotation, which was not high enough to justify the expense of the system.

If farmers are considering a VRI system, Hillyer recommends they do their homework first. Landowners need to get a good map of the field to determine if there is enough variation in the field. Next the farmer needs to be ready to devote time to handle and manage the data.

"If you want to get the value out of it, you've got to have a lot of data," Hillyer said. "You've got to have that data readily available all the time and doing that requires a lot work from the user. Time basically and that's the big obstacle right now is making it easy."

Farmers also need to keep in mind their pumping capacity. With a VRI system the flow will change. Hillyer said the flow will go up and down more, so farmers will need to have the pumping capacity to handle that change.

Radio Oklahoma Network's Leslie Smith caught up with Hillyer at the Oklahoma Irrigation Conference Tuesday at Fort Cobb. Click or tap on the LISTENBAR below to listen to the interview.


Leslie Smith interviews Charles Hillyer of Texas A&M
right-click to download mp3


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