Helping Farmers Irrigate Efficiently
Stripling Irrigation Research Park: Helping Georgia Farmers Irrigate Efficiently
The C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park (SIRP) is a state-of-the-art irrigation research and education center providing an easily accessible facility to assist farmers in managing irrigation and the general public in understanding the role of water in the economy of the region. Scientists, engineers, extension specialists, and staff collaborate to define crop water needs, improve food, feed and fiber production under irrigation, and find more efficient ways to apply irrigation water. The facility offers exceptional education and demonstration opportunities for farmers and irrigation companies. Extramural funding for projects at SIRP has increased in 2009. There is much anecdotal evidence that educational and research activities at SIRP are making an impact on the area's farmers.
In all parts of the U.S., agriculture is putting increased demands on limited water resources. Yet, in our rural and farm communities, efficient water use is critical for sustainable economic development. Many states are currently developing management plans for water use within and between states. In the nation's irrigated agricultural regions, ag water use is often estimated at 50% of total water consumed. Nationwide, there are over 150,000 center pivot (CP) irrigation systems, watering over 21 million acres of cropland. In Georgia, there are over 13,000 center pivot systems, watering about 1.5 million acres. However, recent drought periods and lawsuits between states have prompted a renewed interest in water conservation methods.
The Coastal Plain of Georgia historically receives in excess of 50 inches of precipitation per year. For much of the 20th century, precipitation patterns during the April - October growing season allowed farmers to achieve good yields without supplemental irrigation. But, changing precipitation patterns and the increasing frequency of agricultural drought resulted in a rapid expansion of center pivot irrigation during the final three decades of the century.
The highest concentration of center pivot irrigation in Georgia occurs in the lower Flint River basin (LFRB) where the Floridan aquifer ranges from less than 10 m to 30 m below the soil surface and the landscape is dotted by lime sinks and springs. The karst geology of the aquifer makes it highly productive with a 6 inch well capable of yielding 400 gal/min.
Farmers are being encouraged to improve irrigation application efficiencies and water use efficiency. Producers are increasing their irrigation management effort to save on pumping costs and water use while insuring high yields and quality. Producers are also interested in objective irrigation management tools to create continuity in irrigation strategies from field to field and year to year.
SIRP hosted research projects from many different disciplines in 2009, including:
• Using remote sensing technologies to detect soil moisture stress in cotton
• Comparing new and established peanut cultivars under paired irrigated / dryland tests
• Evaluating irrigation scheduling methods for sweet corn production
• Evaluating corn and peanut irrigation schedules in a strip-till system
• Testing interaction of cotton plant growth regulators and irrigation
• Evaluation of subsurface drip irrigation in a corn-cotton-peanut rotation
• Low input peanut production systems in conventional vs. conservation tillage
• Irrigation scheduling effects on winter wheat yields
• Irrigation scheduling of watermelons
• Plastic mulch effects on thrip movement in drip irrigated tomatoes
In January, SIRP hosted its first workshop on Irrigation Scheduling targeted at irrigation managers and crop consultants. Over 20 attendees met for two days to learn from a diverse group of experts from industry and academia on irrigation scheduling tools and techniques.
A Field Day was held on June 30 and over 100 attendees learned about the research projects taking place at SIRP from the scientists involved.
To reach students in the area to educate them on the importance of water and irrigation to the region, SIRP joined the Mitchell County 4-H as well as the Flint RiverQuarium to conduct a 3 day summer camp, "4H2O Camp". Over 60 students plus numerous advisors spent a full day at SIRP learning about water, irrigation, ecosystems, ag careers, etc. The 4H20 program was selected for a 2009 "Tony Roberts Innovation Award".
SIRP bolstered its cooperative work with the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District by taking a more active role in the Flint River Basin Program. This program is a partnership of the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District, USDA-NRCS, and The Nature Conservancy whose goal is to help farmers in the Lower Flint River Basin identify ways to conserve water and install cutting-edge irrigation technology.
SIRP hosted numerous other meetings and workshops by industry groups, government agencies, and other groups working on ag irrigation in some manner.
The SIRP website, now www.striplingpark.org, is being updated and enhanced to better serve our clientele as well as serving as an objective source of information for Georgia Cooperative Extension agents, scientists, and federal/state agencies.
SIRP is arguably the premier irrigation research and education facility in the eastern US. There is much anecdotal evidence that educational and research activities at SIRP are making an impact on the area's farmers as they are becoming more receptive to opportunities to improve their irrigation systems and methods.
Extramural funding for projects at SIRP has increased in 2009. The main commodity commissions (corn, cotton, and peanut) have funded projects being conducted at the facility. Special federal funding is likely to be awarded to a project at SIRP in the near future.
SIRP's partnership with the Flint River Basin Program has assisted with the Program obtaining over $10 million from the USDA-NRCS AWEP program for cost-sharing irrigation efficiency / conservation enhancements including lower pressure drop nozzles, remote soil moisture monitoring, and variable-rate irrigation systems (VRI). The Park and its scientists are working with the Flint River Basin Program to deploy Variable-Rate Irrigation systems (VRI) - by 2013 the effort will have installed over 130 VRI systems for a total water savings of about 650 M gallons (or 2 acre-inches) per season.
Agricultural Profitability and Sustainability