A disastrous 2012 growing season piqued many Kentucky farmers’ interest in learning whether irrigation is feasible for their operations, but there is little information for them to go on; few previous research studies have been conducted about irrigation in Kentucky.

Lauren Settles and Brad Hagan, University of Kentucky students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, spent their summer in western Kentucky corn fields conducting a study with the idea of helping area farmers make educated decisions regarding irrigation.

“The goal of our study was to create a basis for a guide book on irrigation use for farmers, not only in our area, but in western Kentucky,” said Settles, a sophomore and intern with the Henderson County office of the UK Cooperative Extension Service. “Irrigation has recently become a big thing, especially in this area with the drought last year and our location on the Ohio River.”

 

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Henderson and neighboring Daviess County are ideal locations for the study. Irrigation already has a strong foothold in the area. It’s an attractive option for area producers because of the readily available water supply from the Ohio and Green rivers and their tributaries, along with large, flat fields and soil types with limited water-holding capacity, said Mike Smith, Henderson County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

Clint Hardy, Smith’s counterpart in Daviess County, estimated there are about 300 center pivot irrigation systems between the two counties, about 50 of which were installed over the winter, largely because of the 2012 drought.

Settles and Hagan, a senior and Daviess County Extension intern, worked with Chad Lee and Edwin Ritchey, UK Extension grain crops and soils specialists, respectively, to develop questions for a producer survey. They then surveyed 13 producers about their irrigation equipment and agronomic and management practices.

Settles and Hagan recorded weekly field observations on temperatures, humidity levels, wind speed, soil moisture and crop growth stages. The students collected moisture amounts from rain gauges located inside and outside the center pivots to determine the amount of water the crop received from rainfall and from irrigation.

In addition to irrigation, their study will determine the plant’s nitrogen uptake and utilization. After producers made their regular nitrogen fertilizer applications this spring, Hagan and Settles measured a 30-by-50 foot strip in each field and made an additional nitrogen application when the crop reached around the V5 and V6 growth stages.

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Settles and Hagan collected plant tissue, soil fertility and nitrate samples from inside and outside the strip in each field before making the additional nitrogen application. They collected samples again at tasseling to determine if the late-season nitrogen application had any influence on the crop.

To read more about this Kentucky irrigation study, click here.

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