Home Farm Equipment Farmers save money with soil moisture sensors, other strategies

Farmers save money with soil moisture sensors, other strategies


Figuring out how a lot to water a crop will be each an artwork and a science, and when it involves irrigation, most farmers have their very own distinctive strategies. However as expertise advances, extra producers are taking the guesswork out of irrigation and saving each water and money. 

Arkansas farmer John Allen McGraw is a kind of producers. Just lately, McGraw, a fifth-generation farmer in Lincoln County, started experimenting with soil moisture sensors in his furrow irrigation system.  

“I started with one soybean field. I used soil moisture sensors on half of the field, and the other half I watered as I normally would,” McGraw recollects. “I cut out a bunch of water by listening to the soil moisture sensors.” 

Knowledge from his on-farm experiment exhibits he decreased his water purposes from 5 to 2 on the portion of the sphere the place soil moisture sensors had been positioned. Eliminating three waterings saved McGraw 2.4 million gallons of water, and, in keeping with his estimates, $21 per acre in watering prices. His soybean yields? They had been the identical on either side of the sphere. 

“I harvested 77 bushels per acre soybeans on the entire field,” McGraw mentioned. The Arkansas state common is round 50 bushels per acre. “When I can maintain my yields, while still saving a substantial amount of water, that’s a huge benefit for me.” 

Ginger Rowsey

Arkansas producer John Allen McGraw says he has saved tens of millions of gallons of water and maintained yields through the use of soil moisture sensors to schedule irrigation.

Chad Render additionally farms in Lincoln County, Ark., in addition to neighboring Jefferson County. He grows greater than 6,000 acres of corn, soybeans and rice. Like McGraw, Render has paid nearer consideration to water administration in recent times. He put in his first soil moisture sensor three years in the past. 

“At first I thought it was a crazy concept, but after that first year I realized how much I was using it,” mentioned Render, who now has three soil moisture sensors and is trying so as to add extra. “A lot of times I think we were overwatering early on in the corn and soybeans. We started critically looking at the growth stage where the crop is needing the water and applying water when the crop needs it, not when it looks like it needs it.” 

Since implementing water saving applied sciences, Render mentioned he as has lower out one to 2 waterings in his corn relying on planting date and rainfall quantities. 

“I’m not going to say we’re yielding more from less water, but we’re keeping our yields where they were, we’re not missing bushels. However, we are saving money, effort and time,” Render provides. 

Altering irrigation perceptions 

Soil moisture sensors are designed to present growers peace of thoughts by letting them know what’s occurring beneath the bottom and the way crops are responding to irrigation occasions. However each Render and McGraw admit it took a little bit religion to position their belief within the expertise. 

“You’ve been raised from a kid to water when the plant looks like it needs water, or water once a week when it’s not raining. That’s just what we’ve done forever, and it’s hard to implement these new ideas,” Render mentioned. “When I’m checking crops and see plants start to wilt, turn or twist, my farmer mentality is to get some water out there. But with the sensors I can get on my phone and see the moisture is there. It’s shown me that what the plant needs is not always what I’m seeing aboveground.” 

“When you look at your crop, you’ll think you need to be watering, but the soil moisture sensor says don’t do it. I’ve found it best to just listen to it and not second guess it,” McGraw mentioned. 

Ginger RowseyMcGrawLooksAtComputer.jpeg

John Allen McGraw scans reviews generated by soil moisture sensor software program. “I’ve found it best to listen to the sensors,” he says.

McGraw began with a PrecisionKing moisture monitor. He now has three in his fields. Whereas he says the PrecisionKing design is a bit cumbersome, the system gives reliable information in a user-friendly format. He’s additionally a fan of the Trellis soil moisture monitor system. The Trellis is smaller with a base station that collects information from a number of sensor stations inside a two-mile radius. 

“I had 170 acres and five fields on one Trellis sensor. As long as soil type is similar and you’re close enough that you’re getting the same amount of rain, you can do several fields with one sensor,” McGraw mentioned. He plans so as to add a number of Trellis sensors in 2021. 

“Installing any soil moisture sensor will be costly upfront, but in my experience, if you can eliminate two to three irrigation events by listening to the technology, it will pay for itself the first year.” 

Extra crop per drop 

The catalyst for each farmers to put money into soil moisture monitoring was the College of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Most Crop Per Drop Contest. The competitors focuses on maximizing yield by maximizing water use effectivity. The winner could not have the very best manufacturing per acre however may have harvested probably the most bushels for each inch of water. 

Researchers say the objective of this system is to encourage producers to experiment with water-saving applied sciences and strategies. Sensor-based irrigation programs are only one software utilized by contributors. Others embrace computerized gap choice applications comparable to Delta Plastics’ Pipe Planner, the UA Rice Irrigation app, alternate wetting and drying and surge valves. 

Contest winners are chosen for 3 classes — corn, rice and soybeans — with winners sharing in additional than $30,000 in money and prizes. 

Render gained first place within the corn division, attaining 11.5 bushels per inch of water and a median of 225 bushels per acre. This was his second 12 months to enter the competition. 

“I’ve never been a guy to enter competition, and I wouldn’t have entered this one if Scott Crabb with NRCS had not explained that this is a good way to evaluate your irrigation practices. After the first year, I was hooked on learning what I can do better,” Render mentioned.  

Ginger RowseyChad Render - web.jpeg

Chad Render was the winner of the Most Crop per Drop Contest in corn. He says expertise like Pipe Planner and soil moisture sensors attributed to his win. He’s additionally seen water financial savings with cowl crops like cereal rye.

Render makes use of Pipe Planner in addition to Watermark sensors. He’s additionally seen potential water financial savings with cowl crops, significantly cereal rye and black oats. 

“On some of our sandier soils, we’ve noticed a significant difference where we plant into the cover crop and then go in and burn it down. The cover just conserves a lot of soil erosion off the beds, it conserves a lot of moisture, and it’s like a blanket over that soil. It seems like a better environment when planting into that cover crop,” Render mentioned. 

McGraw completed in second place within the soybean class behind Jeremy Weideman of Clay County, Ark. McGraw averaged 4.2 bushels per inch and a median of 77 bushels per acre. Along with his soil moisture sensors, he says he believes Pipe Planner is a must have software program. He’s additionally experimenting with cereal rye covers. 

In 2019, McGraw gained the rice class in Most Crop Per Drop after attempting alternate wetting and drying (AWD), a course of that includes making use of a flood, then letting it soak into the bottom till the water stage is about 4 inches beneath the soil floor earlier than making use of extra water. His 40-acre contest discipline harvested 208 bushels per acre — about the identical as the remainder of his rice fields — however he estimated he saved $24 per acre in water pumping prices by implementing AWD. 

“It’s not the way my dad taught me to rice farm, but you have to be willing to try new things, and you can always learn something new” McGraw mentioned. “That’s why I like the competition. It makes you push the limits.” 

McGraw mentioned he plans to proceed competing within the contest, with a objective of finally profitable every class. Alongside with the game of competitors and, in fact, the cost-savings he’s realized by implementing new practices, he desires to proceed optimizing his water administration for the way forward for his farm. 

“There’s only so much water, and we can’t just use it all up now,” McGraw mentioned. “I’m afraid more regulations on water usage are in store. I’m trying to get it figured out now, so I’ll be ready if that happens.” 

Render agrees. “Water conservation is critical. Anything we can do to relift or recycle water is on our minds to do.” 

The deadline to enter the following Most Crop per Drop contest is June 30. Contest rules and entry requirements are available online, or you’ll be able to attain out to [email protected], name 870-673-2661, or contact your native county Extension or NRCS article. 


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