BMPs help protect the environment while helping growers succeed

07/14/2014 11:57:00 AM
Kelly Morgan and Stewart Swanson

More than 100,000 acres of agricultural land in the basin have been fitted with overhead irrigation systems to meet water demand and achieve economic optimum production. The Suwannee River Water Management District reports that on average, production agriculture withdraws 180 million gallons of water per day. More than 2,000 center-pivot irrigation systems in the Suwanee River Basin account for most of the consumption by agriculture.

Continuously measuring soil moisture and climate data using current, affordable technology is an excellent method to optimize irrigation management, increasing economic and environmental sustainability. Measuring systems are automated and relatively maintenance free.

However, gaps exist in both technical and agronomic knowledge which reduces on-farm implementation of the technology.

IFAS Extension agent Mace Bauer developed a project that assembled equipment into a package that could be readily adopted by farmers. 

Field sensor kits were put together using commercially available components including a fiberglass enclosure mounted on a pole, datalogger, cell phone modem and antenna, 12-volt battery, solar panel, tipping bucket rain gauge and a soil moisture sensor.

Fifteen sites spread over several counties and multiple farmers were equipped with the package at their own expense. The Extension agent familiarized the growers with the user interface and irrigation management basics including soil water holding capacity, evapotranspiration and allowable water depletion.

Farmers willingly adopted and used the technology. One farmer reported eliminating four 1-inch irrigations on 180 acres. This resulted in water savings of 19 million gallons and reduced pumping costs by about $5,000.

click image to zoomdrip irrigation in tomatoesCourtesy National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory, University of GeorgiaVegetable growers install drip irrigation in Southwest Florida

According to a survey by Gene McAvoy, a multi-county vegetable Extension agent and county Extension director in Southwest Florida, vegetable growers are installing drip irrigation at an increased pace.

Over the past five years, adoption of more efficient low-volume drip irrigation systems by vegetable growers has increased dramatically in Southwest Florida from approximately 35 percent of the total acreage to more than 65 percent of the total acreage, converting from traditional seepage irrigation systems to more efficient drip irrigation systems.

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