Farm Progress

The Upper Big Blue NRD will provide cost-share for VRI systems to encourage growers to adopt new practices.

Tyler Harris, Editor

April 24, 2017

4 Min Read
BABY STEPS: Applicants don't have to dive right into individual nozzle control. When applying for cost share through the VRI pilot program, the system could be as simple as speed control. "There is a comfort level. If growers want to ease into it, they can do that," says David Eigenberg, Upper Big Blue NRD.Don McCabe

Back when corn was $7 a bushel, Marie Krausnick saw a lot of new center-pivot systems being installed in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District — many of them with signs on the end tower or pivot point indicating they were "GPS-ready."

"But how many are using that technology to the full benefit?" asks Krausnick, water department manager at the Upper Big Blue NRD. "If we can plant seed money to encourage people to use systems to their full potential, I think it's a way to encourage technology adoption."

Earlier this year, the Upper Big Blue NRD launched a pilot program for cost-share funding for variable-rate irrigation systems in the district to do just that.

Upper Big Blue is the first NRD offering a pilot program for VRI cost share, and David Eigenberg, general manager there, notes the goal is to help encourage irrigators to start using VRI systems and continue to use the technology once they realize the benefits of using it.

"We show them the way, and once we get the ball rolling, we get out of the way," says Eigenberg. "It's our hope that we don't just have new equipment on center pivots, but we encourage new management practices."

Rod Debuhr, assistant manager at the NRD notes the district, which includes York County and parts of Butler, Polk, Hamilton, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Seward and Saline counties, has about 1.2 million irrigated acres and is a major part of the Rainwater Basin. So, one of the program's goals is helping growers improve irrigation efficiency while maintaining the groundwater and basins.

"VRI gives them an opportunity to save water while they're passing a portion of the pivot through those areas, while at the same time protecting that resource, which provides habitat for migratory water fowl and a filtration system for rainfall runoff that goes back into groundwater," says Debuhr.

Is VRI for you?
The cost share will cover 50%, and up to $7,500 of the cost of the VRI system. Of course, some individual nozzle systems will cost over $15,000. If it is part of the VRI system, applicants can include the cost of a variable frequency drive (VFD), as well as the cost of writing variable-rate prescriptions. For the time being, the program is limited to one application per landowner. Interested applicants should also consider that they can't increase their irrigated acres by more 10% within the field.

And applicants don't have to dive right into individual nozzle control. The VRI system could be as simple as speed control, which is what most applicants have done so far.

"There is a comfort level. If growers want to ease into it, they can do that," adds Eigenberg. "We're not promoting any specific irrigation system; we're trying to push VRI technology itself. I think the first step is getting growers comfortable with variable rate, and then moving forward."

When setting up a VRI system, growers should consider soil type variability, slope and any obstacles that the system has to maneuver through in the field. Setting up and delineating zones for VRI might involve electrical conductivity (EC) mapping as well as soil survey data.

"Not every field needs VRI. Let the data dictate the level of system you need," Krausnick says. "If you're a typical York County irrigator with one soil type and no slopes, maybe VRI isn't worth the investment."

"With some of these systems, there may be no water savings, and that's not necessarily bad," adds Scott Snell, public relations manager at the NRD. "It's about re-appropriating water to use it the most efficiently."

Driving adoption
Interested growers can apply at their local NRCS office. If the application is approved, growers must work with a manufacturer to design the system and delineate management zones, and provide an invoice of the cost of the system. A Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRD technician will visit to ensure everything is accounted for. The applicant must also provide three years of irrigation records to measure the difference in irrigation efficiency.

Application deadlines for the program are every two months. After the first sign-up deadline on March 1, eight producers were selected to receive cost-share funding to install VRI systems on center pivots. The next signup deadline will be May 1.

"We're hopeful that maybe we can have a field day or tour, where people can go out and see these systems," adds Jack Wergin, the NRD’s projects department manager. "Or if producers have questions, other producers may be willing to show them their systems. A lot of times, when a producer sees it and hears it from their neighbor, they're more likely to adopt the technology."

"We've had a lot of interest, and I think interest has picked up after the first application deadline," Krausnick says. "Once we achieve peer adoption, once we have people that have had success, they can cause more change than we can."



About the Author(s)

Tyler Harris

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Tyler Harris is the editor for Wallaces Farmer. He started at Farm Progress as a field editor, covering Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Before joining Farm Progress, Tyler got his feet wet covering agriculture and rural issues while attending the University of Iowa, taking any chance he could to get outside the city limits and get on to the farm. This included working for Kalona News, south of Iowa City in the town of Kalona, followed by an internship at Wallaces Farmer in Des Moines after graduation.

Coming from a farm family in southwest Iowa, Tyler is largely interested in how issues impact people at the producer level. True to the reason he started reporting, he loves getting out of town and meeting with producers on the farm, which also gives him a firsthand look at how agriculture and urban interact.

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