story to find out more.
engineer Dean Evans inspects young peanut plants. In background, water is being
automatically applied on an as-needed basis (note that some sprinklers are on,
some off) to specific plots. Click the image for more information about
ARS Scientists Collaborate to Increase Irrigation
Accuracy By Laura
McGinnis October 7, 2005
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratories in South Carolina,
Montana and Colorado are combining traditional equipment and cutting-edge tools
in a system that provides just the right amount of irrigation.
Researchers at the ARS
Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center at Florence, S.C., are
assessing variables such as soil quality, crop type and temperature to
determine when and where to irrigate. Through several years of testing,
scientists have modified their center-pivot systems to distribute water more
Scheduling irrigations to meet crop demands is a challenge, but
sprinkler systems are being developed to meet it. Current research is
investigating the benefits of variable-rate irrigation.
Frequently, soil, topography and water needs vary within a field. For
instance, a 14-acre field in Florence could have 12 different soil types.
Precision irrigation, according to ARS agricultural engineer
Stone at Florence, aims to match water application with soil variations and
crops. More precise delivery of water, nutrients and pesticides means higher
yields and environmental benefits.
Excessive watering, a chronic pitfall, can leach chemicals into
groundwater. Wet plant leaves are more vulnerable to disease from
moisture-loving fungi, increasing the need for fungicides.
In Sidney, Mont.,
Evans, an agricultural engineer at the ARS
Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory, investigates how GPS, wireless
communications and real-time microclimate and soils monitoring will allow
traditional irrigation equipment to deliver water and nutrients across varying
landscapes with greater precision.
Dale F. Heermann, a collaborator at the ARS
Management Research Unit in Fort Collins, Colo., and his colleagues
developed a computer program called
Evaluation and Design that models water distribution and predicts
irrigation uniformity. Heermann's group has also developed technology allowing
farmers to reduce herbicide use without yield losses.
ARS researchers strive to improve efficiency and environmental
consequences of traditional irrigation techniques. Great progress has been
made, but Evans believes the best is yet to come.
about the research in the October 2005 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief in-house scientific research agency.