The only irrigation contest in the United States is coming to Arkansas this growing season. There’s still plenty of time for growers to get set up.
Chris Henry, University of Arkansas Assistant Professor and Water Management Engineer, will oversee the contest. Initially, he says, “the contest will be a challenge because you have to get a flow meter to enter.”
There are three categories for growers to enter: rice, corn and soybeans. And there is great incentive to come out on top. Winners for each crop will take home $15,000.
Entrants will need to shift their mindsets from other contests they may be familiar with, says Henry. “Yield contests are traditionally about achieving maximum yields. So, farmers tend to throw everything at it and hold nothing back. This irrigation contest is different. To win you have to get water just right while still getting maximum yield. This is the challenge.
“Water is the one thing we’ll not be able to buy more of.”
For the irrigation contest, “we’re looking at total water used. We’ll be looking at the most crop per drop, yield divided by total water use, rain plus irrigation. The growers who enter will give us a five-day notice before they irrigate and we’ll come out and mark the meter with a process we have developed so we can be assured the meter hasn’t been removed during the season. Then, we will also track the rainfall during the season through a computer model that we’ve found works well.
“At the end of the day, we’re looking at the water use efficiency. That’s why the ‘Most Crop per Drop’ wins.”
Can growers use computer irrigation schedulers? Can they use anything they want?
“Yes, they can use anything,” says Henry. “I expect growers will use sensors, computers, surge valves, computerized hole selection and grandpa’s special approach. They can use cover crops. The only thing that’s excluded from the contest is zero-grade rice.”
The hope is that benefits of the contest should spread farther than the contest fields’ edges.
“I think that what people will find when they enter the contest is it will carry over to the rest of their operation,” says Henry. “They’ll take a piece of ground and intensively manage it and then, whatever is learned, will be translated through the rest of the farm. So, I think those who enter will really benefit even if they don’t win.”
How is the contest structured?
“We’ll have supervisors – just like in the normal yield contests – who certify the harvest yield, but an important difference is that the supervisor is expected to also help with irrigation. County Extension agents can help. So, anyone who enters the contest should contact their county agent, NRCS or conservation district office for help in making decisions through the growing season.”
Henry says there are 50 meters available for loan on a first-come first-serve basis through local Extension agents. Surge valves and soil moisture sensors for loan are also available through the county agents.
“That’s another good thing about this -- a chance for lots of interaction between experts, crop consultants and growers about irrigation,” says Henry. “And, of course, we’ll have farmers telling other farmers ‘hey, this is what I did’ in different situations.
“So if you think you are a good irrigator, this contest is a way to prove it. Even if you don’t win and you’ve pushed really hard and still get high yields, I expect the contest will really challenge one’s irrigation knowledge.”
The awards will be handed out early next year at the Soil and Water Conference in Jonesboro, Ark.
“It’ll be very interesting to see how the winners approached this and what they accomplish.”
In the run-up to the contest start, “get a supervisor, borrow a meter, and get organized before irrigation is needed.”
To enter, read the rules and print off the entry form at www.uaex.edu/irrigation. Call (870) 673-2661 with any questions.