Potato Grower

July 2019

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Page 27 of 47

PROFITABILITY Each July, field inputs come together for the anticipated fall harvest. Successful growers know the importance of irrigation uniformity in maximizing these inputs for yield and grade. At the same time, rising energy costs are a continuing challenge. A critical need exists to continually monitor growers' irrigation systems to ensure those returns year after year. Agriculture has a tremendous history of rapidly adopting new technologies that provide returns on investment. We hear a lot today about new tools that provide artificial intelligence (AI) for our mecha- nized irrigation. Variable rate irrigation (VRI) is a tool being tried in many areas. These technologies definitely have a place in the modern irrigation world, but it's important to remember the basics too, namely, identifying and replacing worn- out equipment and ensuring systems are operated properly. Several years ago, Brad King, Jeffrey Stark and Dennis Kincaid published a bulletin with the University of Idaho called "Irrigation Uniformity." They evaluated 45 commercial fields under sprinkler irri- gation systems in southern Idaho in 1995. The highlight, then and now, is the impor- tance of maintaining high uniformity of a sprinkler system. By simply upgrading the sprinkler system from 70 percent CU (Christianson Uniformity Coefficient (the most common quantitative measure of irri- gation uniformity) to 90 percent provided a return of $144 per acre in 1995. Irrigation sprinkler packages of today are even more efficient and uniform, and in many cases are being used at lower pressure, are easier to maintain, and in- clude options to reduce the plugging that is often seen in surface water conditions. Local irrigation dealers' sales, service and parts teams can help growers procure and maintain the right irrigation package for their individual farms, soils, topography and management practices. Utilize the tools available to get the highest uniformity along with the widest sprinkler wetted diameter to minimize ap- plication rates and limit runoff, and find a droplet that matches your specific soil and topography. Manufacturers offer a range of devices with very specific droplet char- acteristics. Over the past eight years, the USDA-ARS Research Station in Kimberly, Idaho, has done extensive work on surface sealing and runoff concerns for a range of soil classifications across Idaho that can be related to soils across the world. For many years, the Columbia Basin has had the benefit of frequent aerial imagery that allowed up-to-date photos of the field to spot problems including plugged sprinklers or patterns in the field. The technology is available almost every- where now and brings frequent satellite data to provide these near-real-time ob- servations. Recent announcements within the industry indicate the potential to notify the grower via AI if an anomaly is detected with the field data. This time of year, the real challenge can be just keeping everything running. With the monitoring and telemetry controls available, we have the ability to identify a problem on our cell phones in- stead of finding it the next morning when making the rounds to check the pivots. Ev- eryone on your farm team needs to know how important uniformity is for optimum production. Everyone on your team can be part of the solution to maintaining high uniformity. When a sprinkler is damaged By Don Zimmerman, Nelson Irrigation Corporation In Irrigation The tangible results of smart irrigation 28 POTATO GROWER | JULY 2019

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