A farmer who is considering installing irrigation needs to take stock of his or her current situation, he says.

“A 65-year-old farmer who is thinking of retiring in two years probably won’t consider irrigation unless he’s passing the farm down to an heir.

“Producers also need to factor in the shapes and sizes of fields, what they’re currently growing, and their water resources. That last factor is extremely important because if there’s no source for water, then there’s no reason to be looking at irrigation.”

Utilities are another important consideration, says Runge. “Irrigation has to be powered by something — either electricity or diesel. If fields are three or four miles from a power line, then it’s not feasible to think about an electric-powered system.”

As for installing irrigation, a grower should expect to spend roughly $1,000 per acre, he says. “That equates to about $100 per year per acre in fixed costs, and there also will be some variable costs to consider.

“We usually talk in terms of 10 to 12 years for payback, but some producers are seeing that they can pay it off sooner, in five to seven years. The payback will be fairly quick with most systems, especially with good commodity prices.”

It’s difficult, says Runge, to put an exact number on how much more yield can be expected from irrigation.

“However, with corn, you probably should expect 100 to 150 bushels more per acre, 25 to 40 bushels per acre from soybeans, and 300 to 450 pounds more from irrigated cotton.

“So if you look at those averages — 125 extra bushels of corn, 32 bushels of soybeans, and 375 extra pounds of cotton, you can more than pay for your irrigation.”

At today’s prices, adding an extra 33 bushels of corn would pay for irrigation, says Runge.

“You would have no problem paying that $100 fixed cost and the variable costs that go with it. Soybeans would need to net you only an extra 14 bushels, and with cotton, if your gain was about 250 pounds, you could pay for irrigation.”

phollis@farmpress.com