Tips for saving crops during drought from water management engineer Chris Henry – SWARK Today

MAKE IT RAIN – Pivot irrigation operating in Marvell, Arkansas on July 17, 2022 as drought conditions worsened in Arkansas. (U of A System Agriculture Division photo by Mary Hightower)

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts

STUTTGART, Ark. – If there’s one message Chris Henry has for Arkansas row crop farmers during the drought, it’s “don’t rush.”

Henry, a professor and water management engineer for the Agriculture System Division at the University of Arkansas, released a document with a variety of tactics aimed at helping farmers get the most harvest possible with irrigation available. Additional information can be found in a series of Arkansas Crop Irrigation Fact Sheets.

“The next 30 days will be critical for many irrigators as fatigue sets in and many crops still have or are entering high water demand,” Henry said. “However, there are things farmers can do to alleviate both human and plant stress.”

Arkansas had a streak of broken days with triple-digit highs, with infrequent rain. The July 19 US Drought Monitor map showed that all of Arkansas was experiencing some form of drought. The Climate Prediction Center’s extended outlook released on July 21 showed most of Arkansas had temperatures well above normal. However, the CPC’s rainfall outlook was more promising, with the northern two-thirds of the state possibly seeing above-average amounts.

Henry’s tactics include:

  • Use of a computerized hole selection program such as Pipe Planner, Rice Irrigation or PHAUCET to help plan water distribution across the field. Henry said using these programs can reduce pumping time by 10-50%.
  • Plan to be patient. Henry said water is drawn from wells and reservoirs, pumps have to bring water up further. “Expect to take longer to irrigate a set or flood a field and adjust accordingly,” he said. “Some alluvial wells can drop as much as 50% and it’s not uncommon for upwellings to drop 30% when we bottom out.”
  • Soil sensors are still relevant. “It’s not too late to integrate sensors into irrigation management,” Henry said. “Using sensors to determine the last irrigation of the season is the biggest payoff of soil moisture monitoring, it almost always saves at least one irrigation and allows for planning ahead of the decrease. irrigation supplies.”

Even with one or two sets of sensors – for less than $500 – estimating the number of irrigations remaining can be done for the entire business. “In a drought year like 2022, sensors can save both water and profitability,” Henry said.

  • Water deeply. Instead of flushing fields with limited water, try to fill the profile when irrigating, Henry said. “This will encourage the roots to fetch water deeper and reduce the number of sets for the season, saving valuable labor.”
  • Check out those pumps. Drought is prompting farmers to run their irrigation pumps beyond the usual 800 hours per year.

“For diesel powertrains, oil changes and propeller shaft greasing may seem obvious, but oil changes in the gearhead are often overlooked,” Henry said. He also urged farmers with electric motors to ensure they use both the right lubrication and the right amount. “If the oil in the sight window is black or white, there is a high risk of bearing failure.”

The fact sheet provides additional guidance, tables and example calculations, on how to estimate crop demand and the amount and number of irrigations needed for reservoirs and wells as supplies dwindle. .

“Heat stress and heat exhaustion awareness are real threats to maintaining safe irrigation, keep enough water for yourself and employees and don’t rush it may take more time to do things safely,” Henry said.

To learn more about Agriculture Division research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn more about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit

About the Agriculture Division

The mission of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture System is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research with the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the country’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities in the University of Arkansas system. It has offices in all 75 counties of Arkansas and faculty at five system campuses.

The Agriculture System Division of the University of Arkansas offers all of its extension and research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation , national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information. , or other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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