He now irrigates about two-thirds of his operation, or about 2,000 acres. “Next to seed and land, water is our most valuable input. As commodity prices have increased over the past few years, so have input costs. With the cost of farming the land we have, I felt we needed be sure we could produce high yields.”

Over the past 10 years — some dry, some wet and some in-between — he estimates that his corn yield average has gained at least 50 bushels per acre under irrigation.

“I’ve had 30 bushel corn on this land without water, and I don’t want to see that again,” he says. “Irrigation brings consistency to yields, and that is what we need to be profitable.”

  Cotton, he notes, doesn’t require as much water as corn, but the increase in yield from irrigation can be dramatic in some years. Over the past 10 years, he estimates his cotton yield has averaged close to a bale more per acre more under irrigation than for dryland.

For the first few years, peanuts proved to be a struggle under irrigation. White mold and other diseases kept yields down, but with the advent of Folicur and other triazole fungicides, peanut yields quickly climbed to 5,000 pounds per acre and remain at that level today under irrigation.

With today’s high input costs, Lewis says, high yields are a must, but being able to produce good yields and at the same time make the land better for future generations through sound conservation programs, is his long-range vision.

He works with Daniel Fowler and Webster Harrell, both licensed crop consultants, to implement a nutrient management plan with the Department of Conservation. Harrell does the sampling and Fowler develops a variable rate nutrient application plan.