Managing Irrigation in G-Mac's Country

Jul 27, 2022

For the last couple years, below average rainfall in southern Saskatchewan has taken a huge toll on crop production. We continue to keep a close eye on weather forecasts, hoping for some moisture, but are let down time and time again. With this lack of moisture, for the few producers who have the option, irrigation has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. The Saskatchewan Government has been providing additional support for irrigation development over the past couple of years and has committed to even more support in the future. Currently, the Irrigation Development Program exists to support growers by funding a portion of the eligible costs associated with installing irrigation on approved land. This has allowed many producers who have access to irrigation pipelines to add more pivots to their operations. In addition to this current support, the Saskatchewan Government also plans for a $4 billion dollar construction project that will bring irrigation to new areas such as Milden, Macrorie, Zealandia, and Delisle. Expanding the amount of irrigation across the province will help to diversify crop production, attract value-added processing, benefit local economies, and increase on-farm profitability. 

Irrigation has the capability to provide a huge advantage as well as risk-mitigation, but there has always been that uncertainty on water-scheduling practices. Producers have previously relied on instinct and manual, time-consuming field inspections to determine when to hold off. The decision on whether to apply irrigation or not depends on many factors, including the current weather, the weather forecast, the soil texture, the amount of water the pivot is able to apply in one pass, the crop type and stage, the rooting depth and the current available moisture in the soil profile. Considering all of these different factors can make the decision on when and how much water, difficult to manage. 

In an attempt to make water scheduling more timely and accurate, G-Mac's AgTeam is currently trialing several types of soil moisture probes. Wireless probes that are inserted up to 1 m into the soil will detect the amount of plant available moisture at various depths throughout the soil profile. Through mathematical algorithms in the software program, using the crop type and crop stage, it can inform us how close the profile is to both the permanent wilting point as well as the saturation point. By charting the changes in the soil moisture profile, this will also give us an indiciation of rooting depth. This will allow us to check which soil depth the roots are pulling moisture from and ensure there is an adequate amount of moisture available at that depth.

Knowing how much moisture reserve is in the profile can be extremely important, especially when the temperatures get hot and the crop stages reach reproduction. For example, did you know a flowering canola crop or a flowering wheat crop can take up approximately 7 mm of moisture from the soil each day! Throughout an entire growing season a canola crop can take up as much as 15 inches of soil moisture, rainfall, or irrigation. Every soil type/texture will handle this water differently, so basing applied amounts off of the differing amount of moisture at each level becomes very important. Being prepared to deal with this extreme uptake is critical in water management. Another factor that can complicate these decisions further is that the critical irrigation period (during flowering in the majority of crops) tends to coincide with the critical disease infection period, this factor is absolutely essential.

With the soil data at our fingertips, we will have the ability to help you make more informed irrigation and fertilizer decisions to ensure that you are maximizing your crop production. Having an indication of soil moisture levels will also improve overall plant health by eliminating the possibility of over or under watering your crop. For these soil moisture probes to be a success, they need to be accurate, have easily accessible data, be easy to interpret and be economical. By trialing these probes, G-Mac's AgTeam hopes to be able to determine which type of probe will provide the maximum benefit for each individual grower.

I am looking forward to seeing the results of trialing these new tools right here in our trade area. If you would like to know more about irrigation or options for your farm, please reach out to your local G-Mac's AgTeam representative.

Check out the video from Cole here:

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