If I was granted one wish, I’d want the power to control the weather. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, this has been a common aspiration in many conversations I’ve had with growers over the years and across the country. This summer, we’re already seeing some persistent weather conditions for the growing season. And since moisture plays a particularly important role in how crops develop—or don’t—I wanted to share some of the many ways you can put irrigation to your advantage, no matter what your conditions are.
The best made plans...
It pays to have a fully-formed strategy for the season ahead. But even the best laid plans shouldn’t be set in stone. Unexpected shifts and extremes in your local weather conditions might require you to adapt if your fields become too moist or too dry. Additionally, areas with persistent lack of rainfall may also see shrinking aquifers to draw water from, highlighting the importance of making every drop count.
But there’s more to irrigation than natural rainfall and water tables. Cost is also a considerable factor. Unpredictable price fluctuations for inputs and other commodities may also affect your ability to pivot your growing season plan on the spot.
Your ability to quickly address evolving patterns and unexpected surprises is essential for a thriving operation. Read on to see how an informed irrigation strategy can help you navigate the extreme and unexpected on your farm.
Five steps to building a better irrigation strategy
There are countless ways to harness irrigation to benefit your operation. Here are some of the quick-hit ways farmers across the country are accomplishing more with every drop.
Set the stage
With the right data and insight, irrigation can be the key to properly preparing the soil for your crops to thrive—even before you plant them. With the ability to maintain the right soil moisture, irrigation gives you greater choice and control over what you grow. That means you can expand what’s possible on your farm by strategically diversifying your crop and management decisions to reap more rewards.
By granting you access to a wider range of advanced genetics, irrigation can help you access and leverage a wider variety of innovations. And with more possibilities at your fingertips, you can select crops with greater yield potential, flexibility against the weather, and many other performance metrics.
The most powerful part of irrigation is its flexibility. In addition to providing different approaches such as change to drip systems, pivots, and pipes, irrigation also gives you the control to dial your soil moisture up or down based on your unique needs throughout the season.
For some, this may be limited to periodic touch-ups to maintain ideal moisture levels in specific fields. For others, full irrigation could even unlock the ability to grow crop potential to levels otherwise dependent on Mother Nature alone. And for everyone, smart irrigation based on detailed field observations and insights provides you with the ability to address your growing conditions as they evolve. As a result, you’re better able to dodge any curveballs that may come your way.
There’s more to irrigation than water alone. In fact, Technical Agronomist Holly Thrasher often encourages her growers to get two birds with one stone by using irrigation to deliver water and fertilizer in a single go.
This is especially helpful for getting young crops the nutrients they need. For example, encapsulated urea fertilizers are an important solution in a farmer’s toolbox, but these often take a good while before the capsules can release their nutrients into the soil. The challenge here is that time isn’t always on your side depending on your field conditions. To address that, Thrasher suggests incorporating liquid fertilizer into your irrigation strategy to help ensure that your plants have immediate access to the nutrients they need while other fertilizers and mineralization can still be breaking down.
Know your nitrogen
To help maintain the water and nutrient levels beneath your soil, many farmers are relying on tools in the stratosphere. Assuming you are already familiar with FieldView, you know that innovations and advancements in satellite imagery provide real-time, crop-based insights that help you make informed decisions about your operation. This is especially important when weather and operational costs suddenly shift.
Farmers now have the option to connect select information from their FieldView account to access variable and average flat-rate nitrogen and irrigation management recommendations quickly and easily on the VariMax system.
The same is true for managing your in-field nitrogen and moisture levels. Tools like Varimax work to analyze the data specific to each field to help identify ideal application timing to generate the maximum value—and impact—for your water and nitrogen inputs. That’s good for you, your crops and your bottom line.
Insight into every drop
Digital farming makes it easier than ever to understand precisely what’s happening in your fields. By providing detailed data about your farm, platforms like FieldView provide unprecedented levels of insight and control of your operation that would have seemed impossible only decades ago.
In addition to its own resources, one of the greatest values of FieldView is its ability to seamlessly integrate with other platforms and technologies. In fact, with built-in compatibility to irrigation management apps and scheduling technologies, these digital platforms can all work together to help you stay on top of every square meter without having to step foot in your field.
Many tools in one
Like other solutions, irrigation is an extremely versatile tool that can benefit your farm in countless ways. It provides you with increased control and flexibility of your field conditions, while also enabling you to harness other solutions and technologies like advanced plant genetics, a broader range of inputs and, most importantly, the ability to maintain a close connection to see exactly what’s happening in your fields—from the combine, from space and anywhere in between.
Scott Speck is currently an Activation Manager for Climate LLC. At Climate, Scott works with internal and external teams to ensure customers of Climate FieldView are utilizing data to make decisions and drive profitability on farm. He has a passion for connecting foundational agronomy to technology tools and software, helping identify problems and opportunities while bringing the insight to solve them. Scott holds a B.S. from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in Agronomy and a M.S. from Iowa State University in Agronomy and is a Certified Crop Adviser.