A Way to Save Water

Kelsey Fry Environment, Technology, Top Posts, Water

Soil moisture sensor and blue dye diagram created for the field day

Variable-rate irrigation may be a grand step forward in the sustainability efforts of agriculturalists.

Charles Barrett, regional water resources Extension agent for the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center, says, “The technology itself has been around for a while, but it’s starting to gain some traction.”

From left to right, Joel Love (UF/IFAS BMP agent), Charles Barrett, and Stan Posey (FDACS Office of Ag Water Policy – Deputy Director) standing in between the irrigation system and the soil pit.

Variable-rate irrigation allows for control over the center pivot. The system forms a grid map of the land and is programmed to know which areas require more irrigation output. For example, when the pivot is walking around its track and it comes across a part of the field that is typically very wet because of a depression in the land, the variable-rate irrigation recognizes the depression as part of the area mapped out to receive less water. So the amount of irrigation is reduced for that particular section, and then normal irrigation levels resume once that specified zone is passed. Barrett says the system ensures the right amount of water is being distributed to the right part of the field.

The system is controlled by several valves, specifically solenoid valves. The solenoid valve receives an electric pulse from a computer box that is set to a prescription for irrigation of the field. Each of the center pivots has a panel box. To set the prescription up, think of the circle underneath the center pivot as a giant grid, and use a checkerboard methodology to select which squared-off sections need to be irrigated more or less. The valves are then programmed to open at a certain percentage to control water flow.

Variable-rate irrigation has the potential to increase profits and water conservation efforts while reducing runoff to help improve soil health.

Barrett says that cost-share incentives are available for variable-rate irrigation systems in some areas.

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Kelsey Fry

Reporter / Writer / Digital Services Assistant for AgNet Media

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