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Manage Irrigation to Reduce Costs

Those last 1 to 3 inches of water you apply at the end of the irrigation season often not only waste water but also cost you an extra 2 to 5 gallons of diesel fuel per acre. Assuming an average $3.78 per gallon for diesel (based on the American Automotive Association averages), unnecessary irrigation costs you between $7.50 and $18.90 per acre, or 4¢ to 9¢ per bushel (based on a 200-bushel-per-acre corn yield).

Your goal should be to provide enough water in a crop’s root zone to carry the crop to maturity and to produce top yields and then leave the field fairly dry after maturity, says Steve Melvin with the University of Nebraska.

To determine soil water needs for a crop to make it to maturity, Melvin says you need to:

  • Predict crop maturity date.
  • Predict water use by the crop to maturity.
  • Determine how much water is present in the soil.
  • Predict rainfall before the crop matures.

Find detailed information, including a chart with the water-storage capacity of different soil types, at extension.unl.edu/publications. Search for “Predicting the Last Irrigation of the Season.”

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