Even in a wet year like southwest Georgia has seen in 2013, the irrigation systems at the Sunbelt Ag Expo research farm don’t remain completely idle.

Crops planted at the Darrell Williams Research Farm are managed at such a high level that some irrigation is required every year, says Michael Chafin, farm manager.

“This year hasn’t been so much about the large volume of irrigation required, but more about the timing of the irrigation applications,” says Chafin. From that standpoint, it has been a strange and challenging year for farming in south Georgia, he says.

“We’ve had periods of long, wet conditions followed by brief dry periods. As a result, our crops didn’t develop the root systems they would have in a drier year. The roots were very close to the top of the ground, so even one or two days without water caused plant stress,” he says.

Using soil moisture sensors, Chafin says he could see that while the soil was saturated at 8 inches, it was starting to become dry at the 2 to 4-inch depth.

“Even though we had plenty of water deeper down in the soil, it had started to leach and dry out closer to the surface where our roots were located. So even though it was a very wet year, our plants were starting to stress from dry conditions.”

Every acre of the Expo’s 600-acre research farm can be irrigated, says Chafin, and the one spot that isn’t irrigated with an overhead center pivot is watered by a sub-surface drip irrigation system that is being evaluated.

The idea, he says, it to help insure that research is measuring the intended factors, and that the results are not being impacted by spotty irrigation. The goal is to remove irrigation as a variable in research plots so that an improved cotton, soybean, corn or peanut variety will stand on its own merits and not be influenced by water intake or the lack thereof.


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 “We’ve currently got 11 pivots on the Expo research farm. Two of those are lateral-move systems. We’ve got five that are guided by GPS. Those five are computer-based telemetry systems with an Internet-based remote control package. Four of those are Reinke systems that can be controlled from the computer in my office or through a smart phone,” says Chafin.