Stripling Irrigation Research Park
Stripling Irrigation Research Park: Helping Georgia Farmers Irrigate Efficiently
C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park
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. Research projects at SIRP are at capacity of the available staff to accomplish. 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, the 2008 Extension irrigation survey of county agents showed that there were over 13,000 center pivot systems, watering about 1.5 million acres. Recent expansion of irrigation hardware will put that number much higher. However, recent drought periods and lawsuits between states have prompted a renewed interest in water conservation methods. In addition, 2012 suspension of ag water permit applications in the Flint Basin has heightened the awareness of the need for conservation.
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. For example, the April-October rainfall totals received at the Stripling Park over the last 5 years (2015-2011) were 31.92 inches, 27.05 inches, 31.67 inches, 21.60 inches, and 14.98 inches.
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 an 8 inch well capable of yielding 500 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 2015, including:
• Evaluating irrigated corn yield response to planting populations
• Evaluating advanced irrigation scheduling methods for cotton and peanut production
• Studying efficacy of fungicides applied to corn via center pivot system (chemigation)
• Studying efficacy of insecticides applied to cotton via center pivot (chemigation)
• Evaluating cotton produced under conventional vs. conservation tillage (tall rye)
• Evaluating growth and yield effects of cotton irrigated following “primed acclimation”
• Determining yield potential of late planted, irrigated cotton
• Studying cotton growth and yield when irrigated with subsurface drip and fertilized conventionally vs. via fertigation through drip
• Numerous industry-sponsored studies on cotton (varieties, fungicides, etc.) and cover crops
In addition, work began on installation of a new drip irrigation project which will compare standard subsurface drip irrigation tape with a newly introduced “root demand irrigation” tape.
To reach students in the area to educate them on the importance of water and irrigation to the region, SIRP again joined the Mitchell County 4-H as well as the Flint RiverQuarium to conduct a 3 day summer camp, "4H2O Camp". Over 100 students plus numerous advisors spent a full day at SIRP learning about water, irrigation, ecosystems, ag careers, etc.
SIRP continued its cooperative work with the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District by continuing an active role with the Flint River Partnership. 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. Recently, a number of corporate groups have become active and/or interested in the partnership's activities in conservation, including IBM, Coca Cola, OnFarm, and McDonald's.
SIRP hosted numerous other meetings and workshops by industry groups, government agencies, and other groups working on ag irrigation in some manner. Examples included McDonald's sustainability executives, IBM ag and weather forecasting leaders, The Nature Conservancy water and conservation specialists, OnFarm executives, plus executives from Valmont, Valley and Lindsay irrigation companies. This summer, SIRP hosted several staffers from the Georgia congressional delegation. SIRP also partnered with the Flint River Partnership to host a regional technology conference.
SIRP is arguably the leading 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.
SIRP's linkage with the Flint River Partnership has assisted with the Partnership obtaining $5 million from the USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for cost-sharing irrigation efficiency / conservation enhancements including lower pressure drop nozzles, remote soil moisture monitoring, and variable-rate irrigation systems (VRI). SIRP coordinated with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to become one of 30 official “partners” on these RCPP projects. The Park and UGA/CAES is continuing to work with the Partnership and their 2016 $10 million RCPP project proposal to strengthen drought resiliency in the lower Flint River basin.
Agricultural Profitability and Sustainability