It’s sprinkling outside. Normally that is not a very exciting topic to blog about, but this year it is. Since Memorial Day we have had 2 inches of rain, and one of our fields south of town has only received 1.35”. We are in a diagonal band of severe drought, slim in width that runs across southcentral Nebraska. And after a few sentences into this writing this post, the sprinkles have stopped.
When it doesn’t rain enough, we have three forms of irrigation that provide much-needed moisture to our corn and soybeans. They range from huge sprinklers (pivots) to miles of 30-foot aluminum pipes (gravity irrigation) to underground drip hose (drip irrigation) that works like a buried drip line. Pivots, aptly named because they pivot on a tower, can make a full circle or any width of circle one wants it to do. They are expensive to purchase but put the water on efficiently and quickly. It takes three days for a pivot to make a complete circle and put on one inch of water. Our irrigation wells pump water by motors that run on either natural gas or diesel fuel.
Gravity irrigation takes longer because we must first hill the field. A tractor pulls the hiller down the rows to make troughs for the water to flow from one end of the field to the other. Small plastic slides called gates are on the pipe and we open and shut them morning and night to allow water to flow. If insufficient rain falls, we will do it again in a week or two. Gravity irrigation is cheaper than pivots, but uses more water less efficiently and this is why we don’t have much of it anymore. We do everything we can to conserve the water we use. Any extra water that runs off the field flows into manmade pits in the fields and is recycled back into the irrigation system. Farmers are truly masters at recycling and reusing not only water but most any other natural resource (and piece of steel, hose, wire) there is!
We have one field of drip irrigation. It is very expensive to put under the ground. However, it’s extremely efficiently as water is released directly on the roots of the plant. Drip irrigation is mainly used on irregular shaped fields where pivots are not able to be used.
Rain fell in many places last night. We are happy for those that received it! We didn’t get any so we went back out and irrigated more this morning. The corn is maturing and using less water than it did when it was actively growing. Thankfully we went into the summer with a full moisture profile due to wonderful spring rains.
The process of irrigation is fascinating and one would be surprised to learn how many foods we purchase in the fruit and vegetable aisles of the grocery store have been grown in the US using irrigation processes. Next time you are on a road trip, look for irrigation in your area!