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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Irrigation helps crops, more rain needed

Thursday, July 6, 2006

SIKESTON -- In Southeast Missouri, how much it rains depends on where you're standing.

At least that's what agronomist Anthony Ohmes always says.

Sporadic rain fell earlier this week and brought anywhere from a drizzle to up to an inch in some areas, depending on water holding capacity and soil type.

"It's a constant demand of water," said Ohmes, who works for the Mississippi County University Extension office, about the growing season.

For the previous four weeks ending July 2, Scott County received 2.05 inches; Mississippi County, 2.46 inches; New Madrid County, 1.82 inches; and Stoddard County, 1.84 inches, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The government-published Palmer drought stress index classified Southeast Missouri as abnormally dry for most of June, and local farmers and agriculture experts know more rain is needed.

"Somewhere around June 17 and 18, we had some real good rains and that helped us get out of a drought situation," said Joe Henggeler, irrigation scientist for University of Missouri Delta Research Center in Portageville.

Local crops -- corn, soybeans, cotton and rice -- are still waiting for more rain.

"Hurricane Dennis was the first rain we received last year. This year, it's very similar, but there's not really a lot of hurricane activity," Ohmes said.

To give an idea of just how much water crops need, corn uses about .25 to .30 inch a day, or about an inch of water about every four days.

"That's concerning because we've not had that type of rainfall to keep up without irrigation," Ohmes said.

Henggeler said Southeast Missouri farmers are in a period where they have to keep irrigating. And irrigation can improve a crop's performance tremendously.

"Historically, a corn yield is going to be about 110 bushels per acre and those who irrigate will have 160 bushels per acre, or a 50 bushel difference," Henggeler said.

For soybeans, dry land yields 30 bushels per acre and irrigated land yields 43 bushels per acre, Henggeler said.

"Irrigation in southern Missouri is an ongoing process," said Rick Smelser, manager of Irrigation Central in Sikeston.

Smelser has observed an increase in irrigation. More ground is being graded, new wells are being dug and more center pivots being put up, signaling the increase, he said.

The price of crops is another factor. "Growers need increased yields to make ends meet," Smelser said.

Henggeler estimated a high percentage of corn growers -- about 80 percent -- irrigate. More cotton growers -- about 60 to 65 percent -- are irrigating as well are soybean growers -- about 40 to 45 percent.

Extension officials also encourage farmers who irrigate to use an irrigation scheduling program, such as University of Arkansas Irrigation Scheduler or Woodruff "Woody" Irrigation Charts, which are available online.

"Those who use an irrigation scheduler profit $30 to $40 more an acre than those who aren't scheduling," Henggeler said.

The cost to run pumps to irrigate is expensive. Energy costs, especially with diesel and propane, have hurt farmers by nearly doubling the price it was three or four years ago, Henggeler said.

"The rice growers are hurting more than anyone else because rice requires a lot more water to grow," Henggeler said.

Henggeler said the Delta Center is working to provide irrigation tables through media in the near future. In the meantime farmers can follow a couple irrigation guidelines.

"If the husk is turning a brownish, tannish gray, or if any bit of it is green, you can still irrigate at that time. Water until there's no green in it," Henggeler said.

Soybeans can be watered up until beans in the pods are touching or if there is 10-25 percent of yellowing in the foliage, Henggeler said.