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#Fridaysonthefarm: Watering Crops the Scientific Way

Fridaysonthefarm: Watering Crops the Scientific Way Web Header

Story by Suzanne Pender and Chris Groskreutz​, NRCS

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.


This Friday, we visit Front Field Organic Farm in Winterville, Georgia for a first-hand look at an irrigation water conservation plan in action.

Fridaysonthefarm: Watering Crops the Scientific Way Web Map

 

The Challenge

It's a classic love story.  Boy meets girl while working at Whole Foods. Boy and girl move to a farm and establish an organic business.  Girl builds irrigation system of her dreams.

At least that's the way things happened for Jacqui Coburn and Alex Rilko.  After meeting at Whole Foods, Jacqui and Alex established Front Field Farm in 2009.   Three years later, they moved to a four acre farm in Winterville, Georgia.  

The Front Field Organic Farm now meets the growing demand for local, healthy and organic food.
 
With only the house well to irrigate the farm initially, Jacqui and Alex searched for a more permanent water solution for greater water security and to reduce overall costs.

Jacqui and Alex needed an irrigation water management plan -- a plan that would combine conservation principles with efficiency, balancing the farm's water needs with those of nature.

The Solution

Jacqui found assistance -- and eventually an irrigation water management plan -- at her local NRCS office.

NRCS Field Office Poster Image

Photo by Douglas Gayeton, Lexicon of Sustainability. Download a PDF version.

NRCS Agricultural Engineer Wanda Wetlesen-Shepherd assessed Front Field Farm’s soils to determine their water holding capacity. After completing detailed tests, she mapped out every field to design a complete irrigation system—from well to pumps to pipes to hookups out in the field.

NRCS agricultural engineers like Wanda provide technical guidance and the overall planning, design, installation and maintenance of the agricultural engineering phases of conservation activities. 

“I provide technical assistance on any natural resource concern that’s out there,” Wanda says. “I do designs for stream bank stabilization and waste storage facilities, but the bulk of my work right now is providing irrigation technical assistance. At Front Field farm, I’ll use the data I collect to lay out an irrigation design that helps determine how much water the crops need and improve water use on their farm.” 

NRCS Agricultural Engineer Poster Image

Photo by Douglas Gayeton, Lexicon of Sustainability. Download a PDF version.

NRCS also provides assistance with tools like drip irrigation, which provides water precisely where and when it’s needed. NRCS conservationists use soil moisture sensors to measure soil moisture tension at various depths, depending on soil and plant type, to ensure the plants are getting exactly what they need – no more, no less.

Soil moisture test data is used to ensure plants receive the correct amount of water, becoming less stressed during growth. Soil fertility also improves, pathogens are controlled, and nutrient- leaching is mitigated. Plant yields often increase as well. Such control is critical for crops in high tunnels, which depend on precision irrigation instead of rainfall for proper growth.

NRCS Soil Moisture Poster Image

Photo by Douglas Gayeton, Lexicon of Sustainability. Download a PDF version.

“This takes out the guesswork by using science to measure the available water around a crop’s root zone,” says Jacqui. “Rather than treating all crops with the same amount of water, the soil moisture test helps us to apply water only when necessary.”

Growing Success

As a science-based conservation agency, NRCS employees work together to help producers find and apply conservation solutions while ensuring their working lands remain productive.

“The water conservation plan helped us figure out exactly how much water we need on our crops.” Jacqui says. “Wanda...had everything spec'd out and engineered so that we' have enough water as many times a day as we need it, without wasting anything.”
 
Learn more about NRCS resources for farmers at www.nrcs.usda.gov; find featured information about organic agriculture at www.nrcs.usda.gov/organic.


Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook.

View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.