K-State researchers are helping producers manage their water needs to maintain or increase crop water productivity, while coping with declining well yields and conserving groundwater. Studies of corn yields suggest that 1 inch of irrigation water yield more than $100 million of crop value for the Kansas economy.
PHOTO: Brett Oelke, Hoxie, inspects an irrigation sprinkler nozzle.
Managing Resources to Meet Tomorrow's Needs
The western third of Kansas draws its water from a finite resource -- the Ogallala Aquifer.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 50 percent of the aquifer has been depleted. How will western Kansas meet its future water needs?
K-State researchers are helping producers manage their water needs to maintain or increase crop water productivity, while coping with declining well yields and conserving groundwater as far into the future as possible.
Freddie Lamm, an irrigation engineer at the Northwest Research-Extension Center in Colby, has spent 30 plus years studying irrigation in western Kansas.
"With the current drought conditions, irrigators need to pay special attention to the spacing between irrigation nozzles, the height of the nozzles, and water pressure on center pivot irrigation systems," Lamm said. "Appropriate design and management of these systems can help producers cope with drought."
Fifth generation farmer Brett Oelke, Hoxie, regularly checks the water pressure on the center pivot irrigation systems on the land he farms with his dad.
The Oelkes grow both dryland and irrigated corn, wheat, and soybeans. They use information from K-State to help them efficiently monitor their water usage. Brett is vice chairman of the local soil conservation board.
Lamm has the nation's longest research study on subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), which allows water to drip slowly from tubes in the ground directly to the crop roots.
"Although these systems are expensive, there is growing interest in SDI because it can stabilize crop yields at higher levels when water is limited," Lamm said.
"My grandfather started irrigating in the '60s," Oelke said. "We plan to convert our few remaining inefficient flood-irrigated fields to SDI. Several of our neighbors have installed the systems with good results."
Irrigation engineers Norman Klocke at the Southwest Research-Extension Center in Garden City and Danny Rogers, stationed on the Manhattan campus, worked with soil scientist Loyd Stone and several programmers to develop a suite of water management software programs.
- Crop Water Allocator evaluates the best crop or mix of crops for a limited water supply.
- Crop Yield Predictor forecasts an irrigation schedule -- how to use limited groundwater to achieve an acceptable economic return.
- KanSched 2 allows irrigators to schedule their day-to-day irrigation for multiple fields and crops, taking into account the amount of rainfall and the growing stage of the crop when the precipitation occurred.
To offer training and in-field evaluation for these programs, K-State uses the Mobile Irrigation Lab that was supported in part by state water plan funds through the Kansas Water Office.
In mid-November, Rogers, Klocke, and representatives from the Division of Water Resources presented irrigation research and options for the coming year in Larned, Pratt, Garden City, and Hugoton.
Irrigators in Kansas were given the option to use water allocated for 2012 to combat severe drought conditions in 2011, which means their 2012 allocation is reduced. They need to make management decisions for 2012 that are appropriate to the irrigation water available, especially in light of projected long-term forecasts of less than normal precipitation.