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Tech Tools that Save Water

Until recently, Richard Wacker thought his 16-row strip-till machine was one of the best tools for reducing irrigation on his 4,000-acre, center-pivot irrigated farm near Yuma, Colorado.

After all, he eliminated the need for 1 to 1.5 inches of water almost immediately when he began strip-tilling nearly eight years ago.

Today, he continues to strip-till corn into wheat stubble or corn residue from corn-on-corn, as well as cover crops planted behind pinto beans and, occasionally, kidney beans.

“I have some fields that have been in continuous corn for 20 years or more,” he says. “I also try to rotate from beans to wheat or corn for four to five years before going back to beans. As soon as the beans come off, though, I’ll plant the field to winter wheat as a cover crop. Then, depending upon the crop condition and the market, I’ll either take it to harvest or destroy it and plant it to corn.”

No special control panel required
While strip-till and cover crops have done their share to conserve water, Wacker insists his best water-conservation tool these days is his iPad. He is already into his second year of using the new Field Commander system from Ag Sense, which is a GPS-driven pivot monitor and remote-control system that communicates via the digital cellular network. While he was able to remotely stop individual pivots with a previous system, his new enhanced system allows him to do even more, including stopping the pivot immediately or at a specific spot, turning off an end gun, and adjusting the speed. He can also track the position and progress of any of his pivots, no matter what the brand.

“Another unique thing it allows me to do is program the speed through nine different segments,” he explains. “So, it’s a lot like having a speed-controlled, variable-rate pivot without the cost of a special control panel. I don’t have the small degree of control I do with a variable-rate unit, but if I have an area that doesn’t require as much water, I can speed it up and put on less water in that area compared with other parts of the field. I can generally figure that out with my soil maps.”

The technology is not cheap, Wacker warns, noting that it runs around $1,000 per pivot. “My pivots are spread out from 10 miles north to 30 miles south, so it saves me the time and expense of having to drive all over checking on pivots. Plus, I get a message on my phone if a pivot unexpectedly stops, so I can look into the problem right away.”

Wacker’s latest addition,  an iPad and iPhone app called Climate, virtually ties it all together by showing him the weather conditions in each field, including growing degree days.

“It even tells me how much it rained in each field,” he relates. “So, if it looks like I might get rain in an area, I’ll start watching it. If I get a half inch or so, I’ll just shut the pivots off.” 

Water restrictions
The irony is that the water quotas Wacker and his neighbors face have been in place since their wells were drilled some 30 to 40 years ago. They just weren’t enforced until two years ago.

Today, they are limited to the original number of acre-feet per well per year based on the township. If they exceed the limit, the amount of overage is deducted from the next year’s quota.

“I look for it to get even worse in the coming years,” Wacker says. “Anything I can do now to conserve water will just put me that much further ahead in the future, while saving a little money today.”

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