In last week’s article, I dropped in just a mention, a teaser if you will, about variable rate irrigation. Today, I’m going to wrap up my little VRT series on that very topic, which is the newest and coolest of all the VR technologies.
Because variable rate irrigation is so new, it yet has few participants. Don’t let that worry you, ye brave pioneer. Quite simply, the technology isn’t widespread yet so grower access is still limited. In full disclosure, UFC doesn’t even offer this technology yet, though again, don’t be deterred. Nebraska growers actually can access a few companies and systems that offer VR irrigation and the good (smart) folks at UFC are ready and able to connect interested growers with the best service for your needs.
But hold the phone. Let me sell you a bit on it first, yes?
Like other VRTs, VR irrigation is based on zones and matches delivery to the demands and potential of a given zone. Characteristics of your soil, including electroconductivity, type, and organic matter are taken into account to determine the different water holding capacities and infiltration rates of your fields. Varying irrigation according to holding capacity and infiltration rate maximizes water usage and minimizes the waste and damage caused by run off. If I asked you to fill a paint bucket, a milk jug, and a Dixie cup with water, you wouldn’t just douse each with a hose on full blast, right? No. You’d probably fill the paint bucket, with its large capacity and wide opening, quickly, but would take more care with the milk jug, which, though it shares the same capacity as the paint bucket, requires a slower filling due to its small mouth. The Dixie cup certainly wouldn’t receive the same amount of water as the bucket and jug, being as small and delicate as it is. Else you’d probably have a broken Dixie cup.
VR irrigation treats your fields as the different buckets they are and takes additional factors into account to best tailor delivery and maximize water usage. Topographical features, like slope, are considered as are crop variables like yield goal, plant population, and nitrogen application rates.
VR irrigation is a new layer in VRTs that can work as an entry point for growers new to VRT or as an addition that capitalizes on the precision and data gained in other VRT endeavors. At the end of the day, it is a new and advanced tool that will help us best manage water delivery to our crops. Given our current situation, it’s worth saying too that it is a powerful tool to assist us with the management of potential water allocations.
As powerful as this and other VRT tools are, however, they are only as powerful as the data that drives them is accurate. Incorrect data undermines the capabilities of VRTs to maximize our input—it is imperative upon those of us interested in utilizing this technology to gather for use precise and correct numbers.
If you dropped me in the middle of nowhere—the desert, or a forest, or Wyoming—with nothing but a topo map, so long as the information on the map was accurate, I could probably find my way out. But if what was marked North was actually East or if the scale was incorrect, well… At best, I still get out, but many days later and after much consternation, many course corrections, and probably a few dinners of crickets and twigs. At worst, I’m toast. Because you can’t get where you’re going without the correct data to undertake the journey.
Variable Rate Technologies are all quite powerful tools in our important quest to maximize the resources we put into our fields. This quest is economic, of course—maximizing input means that we draw the biggest bang for our buck—but it is also environmental as we strive for the conservation and sustainability that will ensure the survival and success of our industry for the indefinite future.
Harvest Wrap-up Meetings are coming soon! See below for the schedule: