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Ogallala Aquifer Initiative: A Great Change for Loving Farms

By Jamie Holopirek, District Conservationist
Larned, Kansas

Loving Farms is owned and operated by Marty Loving of Pawnee Rock, Kansas.  He had been concerned about the efficiency of his flood irrigation systems for several years when the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) program came along through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS’s) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). 

Marty’s primary concerns were irregular yields and high water use.  His combine, equipped with a yield monitor, was showing him 220 bushels per acre (bu/ac) corn on the top end of the field and 140 bu/ac corn on the bottom end of the field.  Some spots registered a low, 110 bu/ac.  In 2011, Marty began working with NRCS to use the OAI program to install Sub-Surface Drip Irrigation (SDI) on 80 acres of flood-irrigated land.  After the installation of the SDI system, Marty now sees a consistent 220 bu/ac reading on his yield monitor throughout the 80-acre field.  The water savings has proved to be tremendous!  His average water use was 18.6 acre inches (ac/in) per year with flood irrigation and now with SDI he averages 10.5 ac/in of water use per year.  This is a savings of 17,595,792 gallons of water per year!

In 2012, Loving used the OAI program to replace another 65 acres of flood irrigation with SDI.  Previously, he used 16.1 ac/in of water per year.  Now he uses 10 ac/in per year.  His corn yield increased from an average of 180 bu/ac using flood irrigation to 240 bu/ac using SDI.  His electricity usage has decreased 30-40 percent on both new SDI systems due to less pumping time and variable frequency drives installed on the electric motors.

With SDI, Marty can deliver enough water to his crop to keep up with its daily water use, even during peak water use days in the summer.  He can get irrigation water to every acre in these fields every day, whereas with flood irrigation, it took him 10 days to get water on every acre.  SDI has proven to be at least 93 percent efficient with water use, and Marty believes the efficiency is even higher due to there not being leaking irrigation pipe in the fields.  “All of the water being pumped is going straight to the root zone of the crops growing,” says Loving.  He continuously uses a shovel to dig down to the root zone when monitoring soil moisture and scheduling irrigation.  He frequently finds the top 10 inches of soil profile to be dry, and then from 10-16 inches the soil is very wet.  “With this top portion of the soil being dry, rainfall can still soak into the soil and not runoff even if we have been irrigating the last few days,” says Marty.  Before the SDI system was installed, Marty worried about getting behind and having parts of his field burn up.  Now, after a rain, he can start later to irrigate.  He’s also seeing a decrease in weed pressure, since the top of the soil profile is normally dry.

Marty is a firm believer in SDI and said he would never go back to flood irrigation.  “I definitely do not miss laying irrigation pipe on 90-100 degree days and changing water during the middle of the night,” he said.  More importantly, the increased water savings, efficiency, and uniformity are tremendous aspects these new irrigation systems are providing all of us to address water quantity concerns.

Please contact your Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or conservation district office located at your local county U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov) for assistance.  More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov.  Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas.  USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.