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Irrigation Investment Calculator Worth a Trial Run

'Try it before you buy it' for potential irrigators.

Indiana may not be a traditional irrigation state, but irrigation rigs did double-duty in many areas last summer. For some farmers on sandy land or ground underlain by gravel, it was the difference between a great crop and a disaster.

In the Corn Illustrated plots sponsored by Farm Progress Companies, irrigation made an unbelievable difference in the push toward high yields. The plots were located near Edinburgh, Ind., on land underlain with gravel. It's not just coincidence that a gravel company owns the land where the plots are located.

In '07, there was a 140 bushel per acre-plus difference for irrigation vs. no irrigation in the plots. At $4 corn, last year alone would have paid for the irrigation system, plus covered variable operating costs for the year. Of course, not all years are like last year.

You can learn more about results from this trial in the Corn Illustrated item on the Website this week, or in the February issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer.

The biggest lesson, consultant Dave Nanda says, is that corn must have water if you're after super-high yields. Whether irrigation fits for you or not is a different question. However, there are Extension tools and information offered by Purdue University and Michigan State University Extension, working together, that can help you answer some fo those questions without investing a dime in irrigation systems. All you need is a computer and efficient Internet access.

Gene Matzat, La Porte County Extension ag educator, helped present a workshop on irrigation management and decision-making in northern Indiana recently. The workshop was so successful, Matzat says, that Extension staff in other areas within northern Indiana where there are major pockets or irrigation are considering offering a similar workshop at another location early next year. Check with your local Extension office if you're interested in such a meeting.

Meanwhile,. You can find tons of information about irrigation on the home page for the St. Joseph County, Michigan, Extension Web site. Find it at: It's home to not only an irrigation scheduling program so those who already irrigate can determine when they should apply water, but also a decision making tool for those wondering if irrigation would pay for them.

Matzat used the spreadsheet program for capital investments to walk participants through the process of deciding if investing in another center pivot rig would pay during the workshop. What it does, he notes, is allow you to input your own data, not only about crop budgets and expected outcomes in average, wet and dry years, but also information about personal income. The program even calculates effects of installing irrigation on taxes. In the end, you wind up with a number referred to as 'net present value.' What's important to know, whether you completely understand the term or not, is that if it's positive, then the investment should pay off over time, leaving you in a better financial position in terms of annual personal income. Extension personnel can explain the outcome so that you have a better idea if irrigation would be a good long-term investment for your operation.

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