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Irrigation project joins research, technology and technique


The Center Pivot Water Conservation Project exists to bring the latest research, technologies and techniques to irrigators, said Chuck Burr, Extension educator in Phelps and Gosper counties.

The project is a three-year education program with major funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, Burr said. Center pivot manufacturers--there are four in Nebraska--contributed both cash and in-kind services. UNL is a contributor, as well as the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.

The program is designed to help irrigators become more efficient with the water that they apply through pivots, Burr said. For example, he said, growers can do a better job during the season by not irrigating corn and soybeans so early.

"It's okay to stress soybeans," he said, "in fact water stress may increase yields if you don't fully irrigate."

Burr also said that stressing corn during the vegetative growth stage will not hurt yields. But once the tassel comes out, it needs to have full water.

Burr would like to see producers deplete some of the soil water during the growing season so the soil can store any rain that falls. At the end of the season, he advises depleting the soil moisture to about 40 percent in the top four-feet of soil because, typically, there is plenty of rainfall to fill that soil profile before the next irrigation season.

Burr said that 2009 is the first year of the program. The five presentations developed for this year include:

--Sprinkler packages. This presentation will help producers select the most efficient sprinklers for their own situations.

--Pumping costs. This presentation will allow the crop grower to decide if the system is using more energy than it should and if it needs to be tested for inefficiencies.

--Nebraska Ag Water Management Demonstration Network. This network uses moisture sensors and an atmometer to keep track of how much water crop is using during the growing season.

--Limited irrigation. Growers will learn about research that reveals methods for producing optimum yields with less water.

--Water Optimizer. This is an Excel-based spreadsheet program that permits producers to plug in their own numbers to determine how best to use irrigation water.

Burr is working with the four pivot manufacturers and their distribution networks. He attends dealer open houses where he gives the presentations.

"So visit with the dealers in your neighborhood and ask if they're going to have an open house," he said.

A UNL website will soon make the presentations available for download and viewing on the producer's own computer.

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