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Keep this year's irrigation challenges in mind for next year

Over time, it's easy to forget about the pain points in a given year's irrigation season, but it's important to remember those challenges to improve management.

Note: You can listen to my conversation with Keith Byerly by clicking on the audio file at the end of this blog.

You've probably heard that old saying, "Time heals all wounds." But sometimes, that's not necessarily a good thing. In this week's Nebraska Notebook, we visit with Keith Byerly, Advanced Cropping Systems manager at Central Valley Ag, on the negative repercussions time can have on mitigating irrigation issues from previous cropping seasons.

"I think given time, we always romanticize what prior years were like," Byerly says. "We tend to kind of gloss over what the pain points were in any given year and just focus on the bigger picture or the good stuff out of any year. It's just human nature. While those pain points may not have been massive in a year like this, we all had an opportunity to experience a month of dry conditions pretty much no matter where you were in the state. During that month, what could we have saved or what would we have made profit-wise doing a better a job on irrigation management?"

That could mean a missed opportunity to invest in moisture management practices and technology like soil moisture probes with a significant return on investment.

And when growers make the decision to install technology like soil moisture probes or telemetry, it doesn't take long to make the connection to variable-rate irrigation when combined with data like electric conductivity (EC) maps of the field.

"When we can take the moisture probe and use that to make those VRI decisions, that's when things really start to come together," Byerly says. "Because when we get into those dry spells, sometimes that VRI is the difference between getting one more round of water on a field over the course of the year or not."

Moving forward, Byerly, along with Mike Zwingman, CVA Agronomy R&D manager, is working on assembling a group of growers to come together from across geographic regions to discuss and share best management practices on water and nitrogen management, with the goal of establishing a culture of incremental improvements in efficiency.

"When those best ideas come together, that's when people are going to start drawing the pieces together: This is what's going to work on my farm; this isn't what's going to work on my farm. And ultimately, I think the key to getting better isn't some revolutionary idea; it's just incremental growth," says Byerly. "The trendline for us is to make 2% to 3% improvements year over year. If we can find a way to make 8% improvements year over year, we're keeping our growers above trendline, and we're going to be somewhere in a fantastically different place four to five years down the road rather than maintaining the status quo."

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