Precision Agriculture Adoption
Increasing Water Use Efficiency and Precision Agriculture Adoption in Georgia
Coastal Plain Station, Tifton
Crop & Soil Sciences
The adoption of technology into production agriculture has the potential to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of crop production. Irrigation scheduling and technology adoption in agriculture are critical issues in increasing the level of productiveness, profitability, and crop yields. The goal of my extension program is to promote sustainable agriculture practices by educating producers on which technologies best fit their operations and how to properly implement irrigation scheduling techniques, precision agriculture tools, and technological advances into their production practices. The implementation of advanced tools, technologies, and practices has shown to not only increase crop yields but to provide the opportunity for increasing on-farm profitability.
Georgia is a heavily irrigated state when compared to its neighboring states with approximately 50% of its total cropland acreage irrigated. Also, Georgia ranks at the top nationally for crop production acres such as Peanuts (number 1), and Cotton (number 2), and these crops are typically at least 50% irrigated by production acres throughout the state. Thus, there is a high impact potential for proper management of irrigation scheduling within the state of Georgia. Traditionally in the areas where agriculture are prominent groundwater was easily accessible and plentiful. However, due to recent legislation there have been restrictions imposed within certain watersheds on the addition of new agricultural wells. New legislation has also began to explore the required implementation of water conservation strategies and techniques. Thus, producers who were typically used to being able to irrigate using a very conservative method employing no irrigation scheduling methods or methods that over-irrigated the crop are having to seriously consider other more advanced irrigation scheduling tools and techniques.
Production costs have been steadily increasing and crop prices are variable from year to year. Thus, producers need a way to better manage their inputs from year to year to aid them in increasing profitability. One such strategy is the implementation of a Precision Agriculture techniques into their production operations. There are many Precision Agriculture techniques and technologies to producers available across all aspects of their production practices. These systems can be adopted throughout the entire production practice, starting from tillage and planting, all of the way through harvest.
Agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Georgia, and the impacts of more sustainable and profitable production practices have the opportunity to affect the economy of not only the state of Georgia, but the surrounding region.
To aid in addressing these issues I have focused my extension program for the past 6 years in the area of irrigation scheduling and precision agriculture technologies which can be implemented by all producers across the state of Georgia at some level. I have focused time and effort on employing projects that have evaluated irrigation scheduling methods in all of the major row crops grown in Georgia (cotton, peanuts, corn, and soybeans). These projects have included the testing of soil moisture sensors, online irrigation scheduling tools and smartphone apps, plant sensors, and tools that estimate evapotranspiration. I have also began working with a colleague to develop new irrigation scheduling apps for smartphones for both soybeans and vegetables. I am currently collaborating with our agronomists and physiologists to determine the effects of irrigation methods on crop growth, development, and final yield.
In conjunction with the agronomic side of the research projects I have been working with our Agricultural Economists to aid in selecting the methods and technologies that not only produce the highest yields but also work towards increasing efficiencies, meaning they are most profitable for the producers.
I have helped to lead a college wide effort on increasing education and adoption of soil moisture sensors across the state of Georgia. Over the past two years, over 100 soil moisture sensors have been installed in approximately thirty cotton and peanut fields across the southern region of Georgia. In response to the project we have seen soil moisture sensor sales have increased by over 300% by Georgia distributors.
Each year I have held a minimum of four extension agent trainings which have been focused on furthering agents practical knowledge in the areas of irrigation scheduling and precision agriculture tools and techniques. Each year at least 60 agents from across the state of Georgia have participated in these trainings. In addition to the agent trainings I have participated in both in state commodity meetings, national and international conferences, field days, and specific county meetings focusing in these two topic areas. During all of these meetings I can estimate that I have provided information to over 3,000 producers during the year of 2019.
The results of my research work have shown that the implementation and incorporation of irrigation scheduling tools into production practice has the potential to not only increase water use efficiency of crops, but the potential to increase yield. Climate variability is a major concern across the southeastern portion of the U.S., in some years we have ample rainfall to produce very good yields, while in other years, dryland yields are near zero. The typical farmer practice is to follow a checkbook or calendar water schedule method where a set rate of irrigation is applied to the crop per week based on historical values and measured precipitation. This method is very conservative in all row crops produced in Georgia and typically applies the highest amount of irrigation. However, my studies have shown that the implementation of irrigation scheduling technologies such as soil moisture sensors or scheduling applications can increase yields in peanuts by approximately 20% while reducing irrigation applied by up to 60% (it should be noted that these drastic reductions were noted in extremely wet years, where the advanced irrigation scheduling methods only called for two or three irrigation events, when compared to methods such as the checkbook which irrigates weekly). Based on estimated electrical energy costs for pumping irrigation water (@$7/ac-in) this can translate to an estimated savings of about $250/acre in peanuts. These numbers were estimated from a very dry year, while in a year with ample rainfall, where very little irrigation was required, the implementation of irrigation scheduling tools beyond the checkbook method had the potential savings of $100/acre in peanuts. Cotton is very similar to peanuts, and the studies we have done have shown that in wet years utilizing irrigation strategies in cotton have the potential to increase yield by 10% while reducing water use by 75% when compared to the checkbook method. Dry years produced similar yields, but with a 40% reduction in water use. These numbers can be directly translated to savings and increased profitability by the producer. It should be noted that studies in both cotton and peanut have shown yield reductions for over-irrigation in wet years, thus it is strongly encouraged that farmers utilize some sort of irrigation scheduling method to prevent yield reductions. This information has been presented to UGA Extension Agents and producers at Agent trainings, county production meetings, and at both in-state, and national conferences. The impact of this data is well over the crop producing area of Georgia. Thus, it could be inferred at a minimum in Georgia, the irrigated cotton and peanut acreage has be impacted by these data, accounting for approximately one million acres of irrigated land just between these two crops in Georgia. It can also be estimated that over 3,000 producers have been exposed to this information regionally and nationally during 2019.