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In the Texas High Plains: Furrow diking increases yield

Sixty to 70 percent of producers in this area use furrow diking on several million acres,” says Scott Orr, Agricultural Group Supervisor with the High Plains Underground Water District No. 1 at Lubbock, Texas.

“Farmers use furrow diking primarily on dryland, but they also use the technique with various types of sprinkler irrigation, drip irrigation, and every-other-row furrow irrigation where water is applied to the rows not diked.”

The amount of water from rain that can be saved from runoff is primarily a function of soil type and slope. In a three-year study conducted at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Lubbock, researchers found annual average runoff from loam soil with 0.2 percent slope was 1.74 inches; from 0.5 percent slope, 2.51 inches; from 0.9 percent slope, 3.08 inches; from 1.2 percent slope, 3.61 inches.

“Every inch of water above basic plant needs, impounded by dikes, can increase cotton yields 50 pounds to 100 pounds per acre, grain sorghum 300 pounds to 400 pounds, and wheat 120 pounds to 180 pounds,” Orr said.

Furrow diking was first used in Colorado in the early 1930s and the practice spread throughout the Central Great Plains. However, most crops were planted in the furrow and diking could not be done during the growing season. Also, diking equipment was not reliable and weed control was difficult in diked fields as chemical control was unavailable. For these and other reasons, interest waned and diking was abandoned in the 1940s.

In the 1970s furrow diking made a comeback due to improved diking equipment, availability of chemical weed control, and an increasing awareness of the need to conserve water.

Doug Hlavaty and brothers, Lance and Tommy, started using furrow diking in the 1980s. “We wanted to capture all the rainfall we could and furrow diking was the most logical way for us to do it,” Doug said.

The Hlavatys say furrow-diking increases crop yields on both dryland and irrigated acreage an average of 20 percent to 25 percent. “We furrow dike every other row,” says Hlavaty. “We have found that diking our sprinkler-irrigated land enables us to apply more water in any single irrigation without any runoff.”

They would dike every row but equipment to smooth out dikes adequately ahead of implement and tractor wheels “ has not been found,” Hlavaty said.

The Hlavatys farm, in Lubbock and Lynn counties, 2200 acres dryland, 500 acres drip irrigated and 1900 acres LEPA irrigated.

They generally plant all their acreage to cotton. “But if the price is right, we will plant some grain sorghum, sunflowers, or peanuts,” Hlavaty says.

They use both two-paddle and three-paddle dikers. The furrows made in the spring at bedding time are of maximum depth; so they use two-paddle dikers because they will form higher dikes than three-paddle units. After planting, furrows are somewhat shallower so they use three paddle dikers.

“If we need to cultivate during the growing season we re-form the dikes as we cultivate,” Hlavaty said. “We usually do not remove the dikes until after harvest.”

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