ELM CREEK, NE (AP)--Local farmer Marvion Reichert Jr. knows the importance of irrigating on time. The two fields he recently tested differed in yield by 60 bushels per acre of corn.

The main difference in the fields, according to Reichert and Kevin Breece, an irrigation water management specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Grand Island, was planting time.

They explained that it is at the five- to six-leaf stage when corn genetics determine how many rows will be produced on the ear.

Under good conditions, the ear will have 18 to 20 rows. But Reichert said the field from which the smaller ear of corn came arrived at that key time of maturity during very hot, dry weather, and ears from that field set only 14 to 16 rows.

Because of drought conditions, irrigators this year have faced problems just getting water through the fields. Breece said one farmer he worked with this summer had to apply 30 inches of water to one field--about the amount for a typical season--just to get the first application through because the soil was so dry.

Breece was at the Reichert farm to use an ultrasonic flow meter attached to the outside of an irrigation pipe to measure the output of a groundwater well. He also has helped Reichert and other Platte River Valley farmers operate surge valves and look at other methods to improve irrigation efficiency, such as ridge and conservation tillage, crop rotations and managed grazing of cornstalks.

There's a lot of interest in such tools, Breece said, "but once again it comes down to the economics. ... They want to do the most efficient thing they can ... but is it worth it for $1.50 corn?"

Agencies such as natural resource districts provide cost-share funds for surge valves, buried pipe, reuse pits, and converting gravity irrigation systems which are about 50% efficient to low-pressure pivot systems, which can be up to 90% efficient. But Breece and Reichert said it is never enough to meet demand.

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