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a table with Kansas city  university water resources engineer bookets and computer at the Water Tech Expo in Dodge City
CONSERVATION RESEARCH: The state’s 10 Water Technology Farms have collected a wealth of data on how well technology works to reduce water use. Kansas State University Water Resources Engineer was at the Water Tech Expo in Dodge City to share what has been learned.

Technology helps farmers reduce irrigation, conserve aquifer

The latest in reducing water use through irrigation was on-display at the Water Tech Expo.

The Kansas Division of Water Resources has meters in every water well in Kansas that pumps groundwater for commercial, metropolitan or industrial use — including every irrigation well.

“We know more about our water use than any state surrounding us,” says Tracy Streeter, who retired in 2018 as executive director of the Kansas Water Office. “That amount of data has been a major advantage in helping us plan for ways to conserve and reduce water usage.”

The 50-Year Vision for the Future of Water in Kansas was a major initiative of the Sam Brownback Administration beginning shortly after his election in 2012. The initiative has resulted in new legislation and new technology regarding water use, including the development of 10 Water Technology Farms across the state, where cutting-edge technology is implemented in real-world farming conditions and its efficacy can be measured.

On Jan. 7, the Kansas Water Office sponsored a Water Technology Expo in Dodge City to showcase some of the technology being implemented on those farms and to highlight what other companies and farmers are doing across the state.

John Payne, agronomist for Circle C Farm’s Water Technology Farm in Scott County, says that operation utilizes bubbler nozzles on center pivots along with Dragon Line mobile drip irrigation to meet the requirements of its local Water Conservation Area, a voluntary initiative to reduce water usage.

water technology farms signLESSONS LEARNED: The state’s 10 Water Technology Farms have shown that technology such as soil moisture probes, variable rate irrigation and drip irrigation do conserve water while maintaining yield.

“We’ve done a lot of nozzle studies,” Payne says. “The kind of work we have been doing helps smaller farming operations find things they can do with less work and maintenance than you see on the larger operations.”

Those studies include the use of “bubbler” nozzles on pivots that deliver water much closer to the ground than typical pivot nozzles which water above the canopy of the growing crop. Getting the water closer to ground level helps reduce the amount of evaporation.

He says the Scott County Water Technology Farm is about 400 acres with two wells and three center pivots, and that they have been able to reduce water use significantly and have taken advantage of the five-year flexibility of the WCA rules.

But, he says, the technology has grown fast enough that the regulations from the Risk Management Association have not had time to keep up.

“Our insurance compensation is based on our use of 20 inches of water a season,” he says. “If we reduce that use to 12 inches and that results in losing money, then we don’t have coverage because we didn’t use the set amount of water. That kind of thing needs to get adjusted.”

Seamans Crop Consulting booth ath the water tech expoPROVIDING HELP: Companies such as this booth by Seamans Crop Consulting had a chance to show what they offer to help farmers learn more about how high-tech farmer can reduce water use at a recent Water Tech Expo in Dodge City.

He added that the rules for cover crops need to be re-examined in the wake of research that shows that allowing cover crops to grow longer before termination can prevent weed growth or soil exposure to erosion.

“We’re learning all the time,” he says.

Jonathan Aguilar, Water Resource Engineer at the Kansas State University Southwest Regional Extension Center, has been helping farmers in western Kansas with irrigation issues since joining K-State in 2012.

The major emphasis of his work is in technology development and management related to irrigated agriculture. He provides leadership and support on irrigation technology and water management-related programs for county Extension agents and producers. His current educational programs focus on crop water allocation, ET-based irrigation scheduling, soil moisture sensors, mobile drip irrigation, groundwater quality and subsurface drip irrigation.

He has a working background in GIS, remote sensing, database management, soil and water conservation, watershed modeling, hydrology, environmental assessment, water quality, lithology, and well drilling.

Aguilar says the state’s 10 Water Technology Farms have provided farmers with validated information on how water management practices and conservation efforts work in real-world farming operations.

aerial applicator interseeding cover crops into the field at water tech farm field dayGREAT TIMING: A Water Technology Farm field day in southwestern Kansas ended with perfect timing — a flyby by an aerial applicator interseeding cover crops into the field they had just visited.

He was manning a booth with a display of data from the farms during the Water Tech Expo.

“We can do all sorts of research in small demonstration plots, but farmers want to know if what works on 10 rows will work as well on 160 acres,” Aguilar says. “Our Water Technology Farms and the cooperating farmers can answer that question. And we’ve learned that we can reduce water use and not lose yield. Technology such as soil moisture probes, variable rate irrigation and drip irrigation are very effective at giving crops the water they need but using much less water overall.”

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