Every Drop Matters
Investing in the Future of Water
Kansas Corn continues to invest in research that aims to:
- Improve water use efficiency through plant analysis, genetic engineering and agronomic practices
- Protect water quality with cover crops, phosphorus management and improved fertilizer management
- Improve water use in irrigation by evaluating new technology and production practices
- Tom Willis, Owner of T&O Farms and CEO of Conestoga Energy
We have chosen to invest in Kansas Corn financially because we feel like we get a return. And we get a return through having somebody advocate our position both on the state and national level. We get a return because we have somebody that wants to help us develop the infrastructure within the state of Kansas use more corn. We have somebody that we partner with in terms of saving the aquifer out here, research to see what we can do to reduce the drain on that aquifer.
- Dennis McNinch, Kansas Corn Commission Chairman
Our research programs are supporting sustainability. Sustainability means we are making better use of our resources, but profitability must be the ultimate goal.
Water Technology Farms
This year marks the fifth year of our partnerships with Water Technology Farm research program. This project, which started with three farms in 2016, has grown to include 15 farms spread across 14 different counties across Kansas researching both water quantity and quality issues. In 2019 we sponsored 7 of the 15 farms, helping obtain new equipment to test and then show at field days and other events throughout the year.
The Kansas Corn Commission funds many different research projects each fiscal year, but what makes this research so unique is the cooperation between public donors, private donors and especially the producers that donate their land, time and resources to help other producers gain more knowledge about the technologies available to increase irrigation efficiencies. Each corn field that we invest in for this project is later cut at harvest, sold to a first purchaser and then one cent per bushel comes back to the checkoff to help us fund research again for the next year. How many research projects can you say actually give money back to a sponsor each year?
Circle C Farms Scott Countyclose
Sponsored in 2019
Owned and Operated by Steve Compton
Location: 8 miles west of Healy, KS, off Highway 4 at the intersection with N Taos Rd.
Technology Used: soil moisture probes, various nozzle applications, soil mapping, aerial imagery, KSRE evaluation
Hatcher Land & Cattle Farm Seward County
Homeland Farm Greeley Countyclose
Sponsored in 2019
Owned by the Smith Family, Operated by Flying V Grain
Location: 15 miles north of Tribune and split in two locations
Technology Used: soil moisture probes, EC mapping, variable rate irrigation, cover crops, weather station, KSRE evaluation
Jacob Farm Sedgwick County
Loess Hills Farm Doniphan County
Long Farm Wichita County
Northwest Kansas Technical College Sherman Countyclose
Sponsored in 2019
This project is a public-private cooperation with the college, students and local farmers.
Location: south of Goodland, KS
Technology Used: soil moisture probes, sub surface drip irrigation, variable rate irrigation, variable rate seed tables, soil sampling and mapping, weather station
R&E Goering Farm McPherson County
The Garden City Company/ Roth Family Farm Finney County
T&O Farms Finney County
WaterPACK/ILS Farm Stafford Countyclose
Sponsored in Previous Years
Owned and Operated by the Innovative Livestock Solutions Partnership with the assistance of Pat Janssen as the primary farm manager
Location: near St. John, KS
Technology Used: soil moisture probes, various nozzle comparisons, control field
Weber Farm Harvey County
Technology Farm Testimonials
Tim Franklin and his father, Gerald, were the first Kansas farmers to enroll in the state’s Water Conservation Area program. Farming in Sherman County, when the opportunity came up to further that commitment to water conservation by partnering with the Northwest Kansas Technical College Precision Ag program’s Water Technology Farm they couldn’t pass it up.
“They were looking for a place to put some technology out in the field,” says Tim, “so we volunteered to take a closer look at some moisture probes and part of the agreement was if we continued on with that program with a dealer then we became the owners of the probe. So that was kind of the incentive to try them out and they could see the data and how we managed the crop as well from a learning perspective here at the tech college.”
Both Tim and his father agree that the knowledge they’ve gained from the moisture probes and the ability to use the technology to improve their management of their irrigation systems has been the biggest benefit of this partnership.
“In a dry year we’ll have to turn our wells on and run,” Tim says, “but in a wet year like we’ve had it’s nice to have a data source to say our soil is saturated, our soil can hold a half an inch or it can hold an inch. It’s helpful when we have a rain two days away and the technology tells us our crop will not stress until then so we’re able to hold off and see if the rain is going to come or not before we decide to turn the wells on.”
Their farm is under their own WCA, but it also falls under the Groundwater Management District Four’s district wide Local Enhanced Management Area. Tim says this technology and learning opportunity with the Water Tech Farm has helped their farm stay underneath the water use restrictions and save water for future use. They’ve also learned that at these use-levels they have continued to optimize their inputs and protect the profitability of their acres.
“On our farm I would say we talk more about profitability on an acre vs. yield on an acre,” he says. “We want to raise corn where we are profitable and that’s matching inputs to the soil and to the water that we have available on that acre. So our goal is to be the most profitable that we can on every single acre.”
As western Kansas farmers, thinking about water is something that will probably never go away. However, Tim hopes to continue learning how to manage it because it’s something important to his family and the future of their farm.
This research project is different than most, it has more than 100 different sponsors and those sponsors are learning along side the farmer to help make their products more efficient and effective. One lesson learned is that even though the technologies vary in type, brands and function, they all come together to work with each other towards the common goal of saving resources. John West of TerrAvion, shares how working with the tech farms has revealed a building relationship between the areial imagery produced by TerrAvion and the various soil moisture probes used by the tech farms.
“Generally with the thermal imaging, especially before the canopy, we get a nice thermal signature off the soil. Right before the sprinkler you’ll see very warm and behind you’ll see very cold and so we always equate warm to dry and cold to wet. One of the things I’ve always taken a personal interest in and we need to get it figured out, is combining a soil moisture probe with a thermal image. The soil moisture probe in a given area is going to give you hard numbers and then you can look at the thermal image and say this area of the field is cooler than the are where my probe is so that obviously must be holding more water. Or this other area is warmer than the area where the moisture probe is so it must be dryer. So you can almost get an over moisture map or at least see what the moisture is doing across the field as opposed to just using imagery or just using probes. With just one you don’t have the data to tie together. These technologies work really well together just to give an overall moisture map across the pivot.”
John says the aerial imagery also ties together nicely with yield maps as the season progresses towards harvest and even into planning for the next year.
“I’ve been really excited about working with the water tech farms. I’ve learned a ton that helps me do my job better as whole and I look forward to seeing what we learn data wise. That’s one great thing about the imagery, especially at this time in the season and beyond, the images start to become yield maps so to speak. As we compare aerial images to yield maps you can start to evaluate where something went very well during the growing season and also see where something went wrong. Generally they mirror each other pretty closely at the end of the season. So come December or January when these guys are sitting down to make plans for the coming year they can go back on that data and make better decisions for the next year.”
Excerpts from interview given in August 2018.
Scott Schechter, of Eagle Precision Ag, LLC, is a certified agronomist and consultant who has worked with multiple water technology farms since their establishment. For many farmers, agronomists and crop consultants make life easier by providing recommendations and advice based on their assessments of fields. We appreciate getting Scott’s assessment of the work being done with the water technology farms and the way technology is changing the role of agronomists in the area.
“Some of the trends we’ve seen over the last 3 years at T&O Farms and Hatcher Land and Cattle are that first of all rain is a good thing and we’ve had a good amount of rain. The second thing we’ve learned is the installation of the technology is very important, we want to make sure we are installing each piece consistently and that everything is lined up and stays that way throughout the growing season. We also learned that as a general rule, one soil moisture probe per field just isn’t enough. Yes, we’ve had rain each year since these technology farms started, but hopefully we can keep this project going for 10-15 more years. The technology is going to evolve as we go, the soil moisture probe technology has already evolved over the last three years. Some of this technology wasn’t even available when we started this project and it’s here now.”
Scott explains that another lesson learned through the water tech farms has involved the relationship between the speed of the sprinkler and the soil type of the field.
“The thing that you have to remember is that not all soils are created equally, so you might be able to go really slow on some fields but then speed it up on other fields depending on runoff and the amount of water that soil type can take at one time. So what we did at T&O Farms is look at the soil type and then figure out how much we could push that pivot. You can also see a difference with finding the right speed based on your sprinkler nozzles or if you’re using a mobile drip system. You don’t want to push water too deep in certain soils because you’ll leach nitrogen but by the same token you don’t want to go out there and just wet the top 2-4 inches where doesn’t do any good.”
We also asked the tough question; which is better, soil moisture probes or hand probing?
“The biggest thing to remember there is that agronomists are human, more than likely we’re going to play it safe. When I’m hand probing a field I’m a lot more apt to tell a grower, why don’t you go one more round with the sprinkler to play it safe or tell them we should start that sprinkler a couple days earlier. But the soil moisture probe is in the soil and reading the moisture trends, in that field. If it’s the middle of the season and we get a big rain event, I know from what I’ve learned from the probes that I can wait until I see root activity at a certain depth before I resume with irrigation. Otherwise I’d just be guessing. As far as reading the moisture content in the soil, the agronomist is still really good at that. The probe is really good at showing the trend of what’s happening in the soil, what the plants are doing and how they are reacting to the water that went in.”
Scott adds that these soil moisture probes are also equipped to help with more than just water related decisions that farmers have to make.
“I have one guy that this year that actually put the probe in for the sole purpose of reading the EC value, which is the salt movements in the soil. We were able to save him from leaching too much nitrogen through how we irrigated because of the data collected from the probe. We sped the pivot up at certain times so he didn’t leach nitrogen too deep and we were able to tell him, hey we leached pretty bad this time, you need to go apply 20 more lbs. What this technology has done is given the agronomists more confidence to be more efficient our recommendations for water usage because we have more information so we know the right times to irrigate. We save water because we know the right times and don’t over water just because we are playing it safe.”
Excerpts from interview given in August 2018.
Chase Nickell works for American Irrigation in Ulysses, Kansas. American Irrigation is a sponsor of the water technology farms and the company that installed the nozzle packages for the Hatcher Land and Cattle farm in Seward County. Chase gave us a look into the different nozzle types being studied at Hatcher Land and Cattle’s farm and how these nozzles disperse water.
“Right now i-Wobs and low drift nozzles (LDN) are your most commonly used nozzles in this area. The bubblers aren’t a new technology but they are making a comeback in lower per gallon pumping areas. We’re seeing them doing their best on 300 gallon per minute (gpm) wells.”
Chase explained that the biggest difference between nozzle types for a pivot sprinkler system are the concentration, application area and the pressure (psi- pounds per square inch) behind the nozzle.
“All the i-Wobs on the Hatcher farm are on 10 psi regulators and they are an impact sprinkler nozzle. As the water comes down into the i-Wob nozzle it spins the reflector, putting it into motion to spin droplets of water around. On the LDN nozzle there’s no moving parts, the water comes down and fans out and they are on 6 psi regulators at the Hatcher farm. The bubbler is also on 6 psi regulators and has the tightest concentration application. The LDN nozzles fan out and spray the water and an i-Wob spreads the water out the most. “
“Different nozzle types are used depending on elevation and the soil type of the field. If you have a lot of hills and potential for runoff the wider you can get your pattern the better you will be, so the i-Wob and LDN nozzles work nicely. If you’ve got super flat ground with a lot of holding capacity the bubblers are going to work pretty good there.”
The efficiency of each nozzle comes from finding the right nozzle to fit your field and irrigation well.
“When you start getting into working with really limited water we see more efficiency with the tighter application because you can put it on and get as much of it as possible into the ground. You’re not necessarily as worried about wetting the whole surface area or top area but it’s more about getting the most water you can directly into the ground. Getting that water down to where the roots can take it up is making the most efficient use of the water on the fields with a lower gpm well. It’s about taking that water and doing as much as you possibly can with it because you really don’t have enough.”
Just like the other industry partners involved in this project, Chase says they are constantly learning along the way so they can better serve their customers.
“We definitely know the bubbler package is better in the lower gpm stuff because there’s been a lot of success stories behind that. As far as the higher gpm fields we’re working with, we’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s just really neat to be saving some water, we’ve only used 11 inches on this field here so far this year, and we’re being able to do a lot more with a lot less.”
Excerpts from interview given in August 2018.