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‘Most crop per drop’ helps growers improve irrigation efficiency

Contest winners discuss what they learned from the irrigation yield contest.

Participating in on-farm trials with Extension and university researchers, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service technicians and ag company representatives can be a win-win situation for farmers.

But there’s usually a learning curve in which growers must put aside their previous experiences and replace them with the new production practice or technology that is being tested on their farming operations.

That’s especially true for the Arkansas Irrigation Yield Contest, the “Most Crop per Drop” program, that attracted 30 farmer participants in its second year in 2019. It was started by Chris Henry, associate professor and water management engineer with the Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart, Ark.

“In my book, anyone who enters the contest is a winner because of what you learn,” said Henry, speaking before the winners were introduced at the Arkansas Soil and Water Education Conference at Arkansas State University.

“This was my second year to use soil moisture sensors,” said Karl Garner, who placed first in the corn category with a 222-bushel-per-acre yield and a water use efficiency rating of 11.4 bushels per inch of water from irrigation and rainfall. “All I had to do was learn to trust them.

“I called my irrigation guy (adviser) every two days, saying, ‘We’ve got to water,’” said Garner, who farms near Wynne in Cross County, Ark. “He said, ‘No.’ A week later we still hadn’t watered. If I can tell you anything, get a sensor, get it in the ground and trust it. The easiest way to conserve water is to turn that well off.”

Garner’s comments were echoed by several participants whose comments were captured on video at the Arkansas Soil and Water Conference.

Besides the support provided by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, NRCS and Arkansas State University, Henry also thanked the irrigation-related companies who provided cash and equipment for prizes that totaled more than $62,000.

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