Category Archives: Ag Issues

Long-Term Irrigation Water Requirements for Corn in the Little Blue Natural Resources District Counties

Irmak S-Newsletter Article LBNRD-Final (PDF version of this article)

Authored by:
Suat Irmak
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
239 L. W. Chase Hall, P.O. Box 830726, Lincoln, NE 68583-0726
E-mail: sirmak2@unl.edu    Ph: (402) 472-4865
http://engineering.unl.edu/bse/faculty/suat-irmak-0/|

(Author’s note) The scientific and research-based data and their interpretation presented in this article is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be interpreted otherwise in any shape or form. As a University faculty member, the author cannot and will not take sides with respect to water resources allocation decisions. Thus, the author is not for or against any potential water allocation. The author sees his role as an unbiased university faculty member is to share information and data with all people we serve to aid in making better-informed decisions. The following information was presented to the Little Blue Natural Resources District Board by the author on December 6, 2016.

Water allocations may occur in areas where long- or short-term rate of depletion of water resources exceeds water availability. Availability (decline or increase) of water resources can be impacted by numerous natural and human factors, including:

  • Overpumping of surface and/or groundwater resources due to suboptimal irrigation management that result in over-irrigation [optimal irrigation management is considered as using one of the or a combination of the technologies available (soil-based, climate-based, or plant-based) to determine the proper irrigation timing and amount to meet crop water requirements for optimum crop growth and yield],
  • Change in climatic variables, including air temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, wind speed, vapor pressure deficit,
  • Soil physical properties,
  • Potential changes in crop water use as a result of changes in climatic and other hydrologic variables,
  • Changes in growing season length,
  • Cropping patterns, including changes in crop hybrids, varieties, and cultivars, and switching from agricultural lands to natural land use (e.g., grasslands) and vice versa,
  • Irrigation methods used as well as irrigation management practiced,
  • Soil and crop management practices,
  • Geologic conditions, including elevation,
  • Other factors.

Thus, when water allocation programs are planned, the aforementioned factors should be taken into account to develop and implement a reasonable, but effective, allocation program. Discussions have been occurring in the Little Blue Natural Resources District (LBNRD) in terms of potential water allocations. In this article, long-term (30 years) data are presented to evaluate the impact(s) of various water allocation amounts in terms of meeting (or not meeting) crop water requirements for one of the major agronomic row crops produced in the district (corn). The counties considered in the analyses are: Adams, Clay, Jefferson, Thayer, Webster, Nuckolls, and Fillmore. Dr. Irmak has been conducting numerous scientific research projects in this part of the state for corn, soybean, sorghum, winter wheat, sweet corn, seed corn, and other cropping systems since 2003. Some of the major research topics include, but are not limited to: soil-water resources and irrigation engineering; crop water use efficiency; variable rate irrigation and fertigation; agricultural water management and conservation; measurement and modeling of surface energy balance, evapotranspiration, transpiration, evaporation and water productivity of agro-ecosystems; spatio-temporal plant water extraction; agro-meteorology; impact of change in climate variables on water resources and agro-ecosystem productivity; impact of tillage practices on water and energy balance; cover crop impact on soil quality and water and energy balance; measurement and modeling of soil moisture dynamics and soil physical properties.

Using long-term climate and crop water production functions that have been measured in Dr. Irmak’s research fields, crop water requirements were calculated for each growing season from 1986 to 2015 for corn. Detailed procedures are presented in refereed scientific journal articles published by Dr. Irmak and his research team and all these scientific publications are available.

Precipitation Trends

One of the critical variables that impact water availability and water balance components in any given area is precipitation. The growing season total precipitation amounts from 1986 to 2015 for seven counties are presented in Figure 1. While it varies with various factors, the growing season in this article was assumed to be from planting in May 1 to physiological maturity in September 30. The growing season precipitation has a fluctuating trend, but overall, there are declining trends in all counties. The magnitude of decline in precipitation exhibited substantial variation between the counties. The growing season precipitation has declined by 5.58, 6.41, 1.21, 2.68, 4.51, 4.45, and 1.73 inches in Adams, Clay, Jefferson, Thayer, Webster, Nuckolls, and Fillmore County, respectively, from 1986 to 2015. When the average of all counties is considered, the LBNRD has been receiving 3.79 inches of less precipitation in recent years than it did in mid-1980s and early 1990s, which can considerably impact water availability in the area and these changes in precipitation trends as well as magnitudes can substantially impact water balance analyses. It should be noted that the aforementioned magnitudes of trends are calculated from 1986 to 2015 and if a different period was used, the magnitudes and trends may change. However, the important point in Figure 1 is the significant overall decline in precipitation over time.

Gross Irrigation Requirements for Corn

Gross irrigation requirement (GIR) is defined as the amount of water required to be pumped to meet the net crop water requirement in the field. Not all pumped water can make it to the crop root zone due to losses during the water transport and application process. Since some amount of water is lost during this process due to conveyance, distribution, field application, evaporation, canopy interception, leaks, etc. additional amount of water is needed to be pumped to ensure adequate net irrigation requirement in the crop root zone is met. The net irrigation requirement (NIR) is the amount of water that is actually needed in the crop root zone to meet crops’ evaporative demand (evapotranspiration) to maintain adequate growth and development for optimum yield production. The amount of water that needs to be pumped to achieve net irrigation requirement is a function of the efficiency of the irrigation system used and other factors. By definition, the NIR does not include losses that may occur during the transport, distribution, and application of water in the field as opposed to gross irrigation water requirement. Thus, the NIR needs to be adjusted with the irrigation system’s efficiency. It should be noted each irrigation system has a different irrigation efficiency value and this value is not constant, rather it is dynamic and change over time, even in the same growing season as a function of numerous factors, including climatic factors and canopy development. For example, not all center pivots have the same or similar irrigation efficiency value and the values can change significantly depending on numerous factors, including how any given system is managed (in addition to climatic conditions and canopy development). Thus, using accurate irrigation system efficiency value is important for accurate quantification of GIR.

Annual gross irrigation requirements (GIR) of corn for all counties for each year are presented in Figure 2. As expected, GIR varied substantially from year to year as a function of numerous factors that influence crop water use, primarily climatic variables, including precipitation. These GIR values were determined for a healthy center pivot-irrigated corn crop that is actively growing and transpiring water vapor and result in very good grain yield (e.g., 230-250 bu/ac). The GIR values were adjusted by the irrigation efficiency of the center pivot, which is assumed to be 85%. It should be noted that the irrigation efficiency of a center pivot system is not a constant value, and can significantly change with numerous factors, including pivot operation conditions, maintenance, crop growth stage, crop management, and other factors. Thus, even for the same center pivot system, the efficiency value can change over time within the same growing season. Even a well maintained center pivot can have very low irrigation efficiency, depending on the conditions in which the irrigation application is practiced. This is valid for all other irrigation systems, but with different irrigation efficiency values.

Figure 1. Temporal (1986-2015) distribution of growing season precipitation in seven counties in the LBNRD.

Figure 1. Temporal (1986-2015) distribution of growing season precipitation in seven counties in the LBNRD.

The GIR for corn ranged from zero in all counties in 1993 (which was one of the wettest years in Nebraska) to as high as 26.9 inch in 2002 in Webster County (Figure 2e). The GIR values were also very high for all counties in 2012 (about 26 inches). Figure 2 is an example of inter-annual variation in irrigation requirements in that it is different every year. Thus, using an average value for GIR or water allocation programs may not provide a detailed picture of this variation.

For much more effective determinations of adequate GIR for a given county, the standard deviations of the GIR values should be considered. Standard deviation values represent the amount of difference from the mean (average) value. The standard deviation values of long-term average corn GIR for each county is presented in Figure 3. As Figure 3 clearly shows, the long-term average GIR values have very large standard deviations that should be taken into account. The standard deviation of long-term average corn GIR ranged from 5.9 inches in Adams County to as high as 7 inches in Jefferson County with a seven county average value of 6.6 inches. The interpretation of the standard deviation values should also be done very carefully, because it will considerably impact the crop productivity response to an average allocation amount. For example, in Jefferson County, in a given year, the long-term average corn GIR can be as much as 7 inches above the long-term average GIR value, depending on the climatic and other conditions. If this happens in a given year, the crop production and associated farm net income would be significantly jeopardized when the water allocation is determined based on the long-term average value. While it is used in practice very often, when natural systems are considered, there is no such term as “normal” as every year is different when various climatic variables are considered. However, determining the standard deviations and especially determining the allocation amounts based on the standard deviations for multiple counties that have spatial attributes is an extremely difficult task. Therefore, in many applications, long-term values are used instead, perhaps for simplification.

Different Water Allocation Amounts and Meeting the Corn Irrigation Requirements

Different hypothetical amount of water allocation amounts and what percent of the time these amounts are not able to meet corn crop’s GIR in each county are presented in Table 1. In Table 1, the allocation amounts were varied from 7 to 12 inches and the number of years and the percentage (with respect to total number of years from 1986 to 2015, which is 30) when the allocation amount was not able to meet corn GIR were determined. The interpretation of Table is rather very simple. For example, a 7-inch of water allocation was below corn GIR in 17, 17, 14, 17, 22, 21, and 12 years out of 30 years in Adams, Clay, Jefferson, Thayer, Webster, Nuckolls, and Fillmore Counties, respectively. In terms of percentage, a 7-inch water allocation was not enough to meet corn GIR at 56.7, 56.7, 46.7, 56.7, 73.3, 70, and 40% of the time in Adams, Clay, Jefferson, Thayer, Webster, Nuckolls, and Fillmore Counties, respectively. The impact of other allocation amounts (8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 inches) on meeting (or not meeting) corn GIR can be interpreted in the same way in Table 1.

Table 1. Percent of time when different water allocation amounts would not meet corn gross irrigation requirement (GIR).

Table 1. Percent of time when different water allocation amounts would not meet corn gross irrigation requirement (GIR).

Figure 2. Temporal distribution of corn gross irrigation requirements (GIR) in seven counties in the LBNRD from 1986 to 2015.

Figure 2.  Temporal distribution of corn gross irrigation requirements (GIR) in seven counties in the LBNRD from 1986 to 2015.

Figure 3. Standard deviation (inch) of gross irrigation requirement (GIR) for corn in seven LBNRD counties. The standard deviation values were calculated for the period from 1986-2015.

Figure 3. Standard deviation (inch) of gross irrigation requirement (GIR) for corn in seven LBNRD counties. The standard deviation values were calculated for the period from 1986 to 2015.

It is important to note that the analyses for potential impact(s) of various hypothetical water allocation amounts on meeting (or not meeting) corn irrigation water requirement to produce good yields (e.g., 230-250 bu/ac) were carried out for the period from 1986 to 2015 for specific counties in the LBNRD. Analyses, data, and interpretations should not be extrapolated beyond these boundaries.

Information and data provided above are solely for information and education purposes. The author does not take any sides or provide any opinion as to whether allocation should be imposed or not. If the decision is made to go forward with the allocation, some of the most effective water allocation programs are those that incorporate research-based educational and outreach aspects of water management and university can offer technical and scientific aid to growers and others who are involved in crop production and irrigation practices to make the best use of the allocated amount of water resources for optimum crop production. This includes implementation of technology to counter some of the potential negative impact(s) of limited water resources for optimum crop production. There are numerous proven, effective irrigation management strategies, tools, and methods developed at UNL that result in enhanced crop water productivity. This can be achieved by reducing or eliminating over-irrigation and conserving water resources through reducing unnecessary water withdrawal for irrigation. For some of these resources, readers are encouraged to visit the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN) website at http://water.unl.edu/cropswater/nawmn. Some of the publications that are related to irrigation science and engineering, evapotranspiration of various cropping systems in each of the NE counties, water management technologies, climate impact(s) on agricultural productivity, and related topics are also listed in Dr. Irmak’s website at https://engineering.unl.edu/bse/faculty/suat-irmak-0/.

RUP Dicamba Training for Soybeans

My top question the past two weeks has been about dicamba training.  I just received the information regarding this training from our pesticide program coordinators.

First, to clarify some mis-understandings:  Dicamba training is required for those applying the following dicamba products:    XtendiMax®, FeXapan™, and Engenia®.  These products are all Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP) this year; thus, you have to be a certified applicator to purchase and use these products.  Dicamba training is not required if you’re applying dicamba corn products (unless it is the above-mentioned products).

Second, pesticide training of any kind is not the same as dicamba training.  Dicamba training is completely separate.  Having your pesticide applicator license does not qualify you to apply RUP dicamba in 2018.

Third, some have asked if everyone in the operation needs this training or not…specifically the person who is purchasing the RUP dicamba with his/her applicator license but is not the one intending on applying the chemical.  NDA says that, “Dicamba-specific training is only required for application of the product, not for purchase of the product.”

  • You need to be a certified pesticide applicator to purchase the RUP dicamba products.
  • You need to be a certified pesticide applicator and complete dicamba training to apply the RUP dicamba product.  So hopefully that helps clarify who in your operations need this training.

Your options for RUP dicamba training include the following:

  1. Nebraska Extension online training course hosted by eXtension. See the link at : https://campus.extension.org/login/index.php (1.25-1.5 hours).
  2. Crop Production Clinics or Nebraska Crop Management Conference. Details at https://agronomy.unl.edu/cpc and https://agronomy.unl.edu/ncmc
  3. County-hosted training sessions at the option of local educators presenting the video which is the same as the online training (1.25-1.5 hours).
  4. RUP dicamba product (XtendiMax®, FeXapan™, and Engenia®) manufacturer sponsored training. Each manufacturer will advertise individually.

I took the online training so I could better answer your questions.  The link to the UNL online dicamba training can be found at the http://pested.unl.edu site or you can go directly to the training at:  https://campus.extension.org/login/index.php.  Once at this site, you will need to create an account.  You will then be sent a confirmation email and upon opening that, you will be logged in.  From the course list choose “pest management”.pestmgmtdicambapic

Then scroll and click on “Online Training for Dicamba Herbicide”. onlinetrainingfordicambapic

You will then need to register for the training.  It will ask you to add your Nebraska pesticide applicator number in a specific field as well.  Your name and applicator number are required before you begin the training.  You can then click on the first video followed by the first quiz.  It keeps track if you completed the entire video or not before you can advance.coursepic

I felt the information was good overall and I appreciated the fact that they mentioned how corn dicamba applications also influenced the problems we saw in 2017.  They also share quite a bit of research regarding volatility, conditions/timing of temperature inversions, dosage amounts and effects on yield.  The quizzes are short and were fairly common sense.  You can click to check each answer once you have selected your choice and will have to submit all your answers before moving on.  When you have completed all the videos and quizzes, you can have a certificate emailed to you.  You will also be officially entered into Nebraska Department of Ag’s database.  NDA said they will only honor those names in their database as those who’ve completed dicamba training.

NDA is asking ag retailers selling these RUP dicamba products to check the NDA database to ensure the person applying the product has received dicamba training.  NDA’s dicamba information including record keeping forms, etc. can be found at:  http://www.nda.nebraska.gov/pesticide/dicamba.html.

The other thing you need to know:  some have asked if a group of people can watch the online training at the same time at your farmstead.  The answer is actually no from the standpoint you all would have to watch the training on separate computers/devices.  The only way your name is recorded in the NDA database is through your registration name and pesticide applicator number on the training site.  It only allows one person to enter his/her information to view the training and complete the quizzes.  If you attend an NDA approved face-to-face training such as at Crop Production Clinics, you can train as a group but will still need to supply your individual names and pesticide applicator numbers at the training.

Hopefully this helps clarify some of the questions you have and during this cold weather, you have the opportunity to get this training completed if you need it for 2018.

Reminder:  York Ag Expo at the Holthus Convention Center in York January 10-11.  Schedule of Events and Exhibitors:  http://yorkchamber.org/yorkagexpo/
Educational Sessions:   https://jenreesources.com/2017/12/26/york-ag-expo-educational-sessions/ 

Is the beef industry sustainable: A look at grass-fed, hormones, growth promotants, and more

Lindsay does a great job of summarizing highlights from Dr. Jude Capper’s presentation at our Sensitive Issues Media and Communication training.

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Recently, several of my colleagues and I hosted a Sensitive Issues: Media and Communication Training, we worked on developing and improving our communication skills around agriculture and agricultural topics. One of the topics we received more information on was sustainability.

Dr. Jude Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant, was our first speaker. I want to share with some of the messages about sustainability shared by Dr. Capper.

Capper– Sustainability is defined as “able to last or continue for a long time.” Many livestock farmers and ranchers are sustainable – whether they raise 10 head or 1,000 head. If you have never heard of the Century Farms Program, you should check it out. The American Farm Bureau Foundation recognizes farms or ranches by state that have been in a family for 100+ years! That is sustainable.

– There are essentially three things that need to be considered to be…

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Sensitive Issues Training-Engage

Many of us have been there…we’ve been asked a question in which the answer can be deemed controversial because the topic is based on emotion and beliefs.  How do we respond?  Do we get caught up in the emotion and passion of the issue and try to force our beliefs on others?  Do we shy away or try to avoid an answer altogether by remaining silent?

Last week’s Sensitive Issues Media and Communications Training was developed to help all of us through these situations.  It was a remarkable experience working with an amazing group of ladies, all passionate about food, but looking at food from a variety of perspectives and taking an issues-based approach in developing our team.  Our team was comprised of a livestock expert, a manure expert, two food and nutrition experts, a communication’s expert, and myself from a crop production perspective.  Special thanks to Dr. Chuck Hibberd, Nebraska Extension Dean and Director, for providing us a New Audiences Innovation Grant to partially fund this training. You can catch the conversation on Twitter at #SIMCT15.

We invited the Center for Food Integrity to conduct their Engage training with us, which was sponsored by the United Soybean Board.  ThisIMAG4885-1 training uses “the power of shared values to highlight industry trends and teaches strategies for using values-based messaging in daily conversations, and public speaking and media opportunities.”  There was discussion, role playing, and mock media interviews.  The training challenged me to use something I also just learned from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training….Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood.

Essentially, ask questions.  Understand why a consumer believes X, Y, or Z about food and agriculture.  Universal values include:

  • Compassion
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Fairness
  • Truth

Seek to understand the other person’s values by listening and asking questions.  Then share by communicating about common values telling your food and ag story.  We can’t really script this.  We can’t be so vague that we’re not credible.  For example, the following is vague and perhaps over-used:

By doing X we help the environment.

Instead, we need to be willing to talk about the hard issues with authentic transparency…to share our own individual stories.

I also desire water that is safe for my family to drink and desire for there to be enough water for future generations.  That’s why my colleagues and I work with farmers to use research-based irrigation scheduling tools.  Doing so helps reduce over-irrigation which can reduce the nitrate levels reaching our groundwater and the amount of water being pumped from the aquifer.

There were a few surprises for me.  The first being the progress in one year (based onIMAG4865-1 the Center for Food Integrity’s research) that we’ve made in consumer trust.  This slide is essentially saying that 42% of consumers feel the food system is going the right direction (up from 34% last year).  Men are more trusting of the food system at 48% believing the food system is on the right track.  32% of women feel the food system is on the wrong track.

Another surprising, yet encouraging piece of information for IMAG4868-1me to see is which people are trusted the most on sensitive topics.  On the topic of genetically modified foods, University Scientists topped the list, a Scientist that was a Mom was second, and Farmers were third.  This is different than other research I’d seen, so I was excited about this.  It was a survey of 2005 individuals conducted in 2014 and was encouraging from the standpoint that we do still have an opportunity to share our stories with those who truly desire to know more about where their food comes from.  We will never change the activists, but we can reach the middle.

Finally, I loved the following quote which is so true:

A picture is worth 1000 words; a video is a library.

They showed the following video from Similac entitled, “The Mother ‘Hood“.  Instantly, my mind went to how easy it would be for ag to do something similar.  We tend to be so divided, but division is killing us.  We are in the business of providing a safe, affordable, food supply to the world…but beyond that, our diversity provides consumer choice.  If you watch the video, consider what is the common issue that could bring all of ag together.  I have some ideas and my team members and I have discussed what a similar video with diverse agriculture groups would look like.  What are your thoughts and ideas?

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