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Irrigation-keen farmers to speak at the Delta States Irrigation Conference

Irrigation-keen farmers to speak at the Delta States Irrigation Conference
Delta States Irrigation Conference to be held in mid-December. Wide range of speakers to address irrigation needs and practices in Mid-South. Sign-up information provided.

Cardwell, Mo., might not be at the bottom of the world, but it is definitely at the bottom of Missouri, and on the very tippy toe of the Missouri Bootheel at that. However, Joe Henggeler of the University of Missouri (MU) says “that area of Missouri houses some of the most innovative and knowledgeable irrigators in the whole state.”

Two of these talented irrigators will be speakers at the upcoming Delta States Irrigation Conference to be held in Sikeston, Mo., on Dec. 17 and 18.

Brad Williams started growing cotton and soybeans fulltime in 1993. Prior to that he was employed with the Soil Conservation Service as a field technician. When he did begin to farm, the SCS training kicked in and helped him approach farming from a more technical angle.

John Hester, area engineer with the NRCS in Dexter, says, “Brad is one of the best cooperators we have ever worked with.” One of MU’s automatic weather stations is located on his Cardwell farm. It is the only station in the nearly 30 MU stations statewide that actually measures water table.

Born with an inquisitive nature, Williams seeks answers and solutions. He says his “harvest hands get frustrated with me because every time the combine comes to an area that looks low in yield, I stop, climb down, and try to figure out just what happened — that frustrates the tar out of them!”

He drills wells for himself and his neighbors, and so has extra interest in knowing as much about what’s happening underground as he does about what’s occurring above ground. Pumping water level, drawdown, and pump performance are as much of interest to him as is stand population, fertility, and weed management.

His farm is located in an area that has water with high iron content.  Since the potential for clogging with iron bacteria is high, he must monitor his wells — and even his tile drains. Williams is experimenting with commercial chemicals to open up well screens.

“The key to catching when clogging begins,” said Henggeler, “is to measure both flow rate and drawdown to obtain what we call ‘specific capacity’ (SC).”  SC is flow divided by drawdown (gpm/ft). Once clogging begins to take place, the SC values start to go south. Williams has air lines on some of his wells, but prefers to use an electric sounder to measure his drawdown. At the conference he will be speaking on how he makes use of water table information.

Brad’s friend and neighbor, Steve Jackson, is another irrigator who thinks out of the box. In Missouri, it was Jackson who pioneered the use of Written-Pole (W-P) electric motors for irrigation, a true single-phase motor. Steve took the plunge six years ago to avoid the cost of having to bring in three-phase power.

“Steve contacted me several years ago about W-P motors,” Henggeler said. “So I gave him the information I had plus a contact in Florida."

Working in the Cardwell area last year, Henggeler learned that Jackson did make the purchase, and was using it to water a 160-acre field. After irrigation season he doubles up on the W-P’s usefulness by moving it to a 28,000-bushel bin for grain drying. Jackson will share his experiences on W-P motors, including the feelings his local coop has about them.

South Missouri well driller

South Missouri irrigation expertise doesn’t end just at Cardwell. Almost 30 miles due west in the little town of Steele, Mo., lies Ark-Mo Well Drilling, home of one of the best irrigation well drillers in the state, Jim Cook. Cook will also be a speaker at the Sikeston conference.

Cook estimates that around 600 wells are drilled a year in the Bootheel and says there is a difference in the type of well a municipality wants and what a farmer wants. With safety and regulation concerns regarding drinking water, drilling the former type is expensive. The farmer (and banker) doesn’t want to pay that much for an irrigation well. Cook says you want to drill an affordable well, but there are some corners you just don’t want to cut on. Cook’s presentation on Dec. 17 will be on quality, affordable wells.

The registration cost for the two-day conference is $25 when pre-registering, or $30 at the door. The fees includes lunch each day. Pre-registering can be done by going to, and then clicking on the Delta States Irrigation Logo. For more information call the MU Fisher Delta Research Center at (573) 379-5431.

The conference is a joint effort of a union of irrigation experts from Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. It features 30 different talks presented concurrently, plus three half-day workshops (on center pivots, flood irrigation, and variable frequency drives).

The Sikeston conference is the first of what will become an annual conference rotated to a different state each year, and is funded by soybean check-off dollars.

This conference is part of a Mid-South Soybean Board (MSSB) and USB grant that seeks to increase irrigated soybean yields in the Mid-South by 20 percent in four years, using set, practical irrigation BMPs. Each state will have several on-farm demonstrations using surge flow, Pipe Planner (PHAUCET), wireless soil moisture sensors, and monitored well depths. These topics will also be covered in the conferences talks and workshops.

Henggeler says that at past irrigation conferences, farmers have come afterwards and said, “Such and such talk was sure interesting, but it isn’t useful for us Bootheel farmers and won’t help us. Just because someone has spent three years getting his PhD on a topic and has had it published in a technical journal, doesn’t mean it will be helpful to farmers,” Henggeler said. “Both MSSB and USB are holding our feet to the fire to see that our growers reach that 20 percent yield increase by 2019.”

“Practical and usable” is the conference’s mantra, and the organizers  want farmers walking out the door with practical, irrigation-related tips that will put money in their pockets for this next growing season, now just a few months away.

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