Using water efficiently is at the forefront of many agricultural producers’ minds, and the advent of mobile drip irrigation aims to create a more resourceful way to water crops. Danny Rogers, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Kansas State University and other researchers are analyzing the technology and looking at ways to improve it in new field trials throughout Kansas.
Other researchers on the project are located in Garden City, Kansas, and include Isaya Kisekka and Jonathan Aguilar, both water resource specialists for K-State Research and Extension.
“Mobile drip irrigation is the marriage of center pivot technology and microirrigation technology,” said Rogers, a K-State Research and Extension irrigation engineer. “In this case, we have specially designed drip lines that then are attached to the platform of the center pivot, and they’re basically drug in a circle on the surface.”
“The water then is applied in narrow strips on the surface to wet a small portion of the area,” Rogers added. “You can control the amount of water by the length of the line, so you can customize as you move out from the center of a pivot to apply more and more water.”
Therefore, mobile drip irrigation can be custom designed for each location in the field, he said, and producers could realize uniform water applications at each line. While customization may appeal to today’s producers, the real advantage of the system is its potential to increase water efficiency.
“It takes care of one of the major inefficiencies of a typical sprinkler package, where you have all the soil surface wetted and generally wet the crop canopy,” Rogers said. “The water on the surface is exposed to higher evaporation rates and reduces your hills irrigation efficiency. That’s the advantage of the (mobile irrigation) system; we’re trying to get higher efficiency by reducing the evaporation losses.”
Because of the interest in this technology, three demonstration farms have been established to observe it under field conditions. The Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Water Office, in developing a 50-year water vision plan for the state, has expressed support for the field trials. Funding has come from industry and private organizations, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Water Office.
“Part of that (water vision) plan was to establish some sites to demonstrate new and improved irrigation technology,” Rogers said. “So it seemed like a natural fit with producer interest and the Kansas Department of Agriculture interest to look at what we might do to help further improve irrigation efficiency.”
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The researchers plan to analyze the potential benefits, which are usually measured in yield increases or improvements in water productivity versus the cost of increased management, which is required to install and operate these systems, according to Rogers.
“We already talked about the benefits of potentially increasing irrigation efficiency, but it does come at a cost of some other management issues you have to overcome,” he said. “These require the crops to be planted in a circle versus straight rows; you have a lot more hardware out there, which requires more costs and a bit more management.”
With further mobile drip irrigation research, he said, findings will hopefully show how producers can improve or maintain full yield potential with more efficient water usage. Reducing water usage would decrease overall water costs.
“We’ll be observing these same fields over time, in the three- to five-year time range,” Rogers said. “That helps us see whether the performance is stable under a variety of climatic conditions.”