Irrigation a boon as drought continues
While an extended extreme drought is impacting some Marion County farmers, some lucky enough to have irrigation are feeling lesser effects on crops.
Alan Hett and his brother, Neal, run two center pivots that irrigate 200 acres next to the South Cottonwood River on 140th Rd. Water comes from the river.
“Having irrigation is very beneficial,” Hett said.
Their uncle, Clifford Hett, who installed one of the irrigation rigs in 1977 and the other in 1990, owns the land. The brothers are responsible for paying all electricity, fuel, insurance, and upkeep.
Half of the acreage was in irrigated wheat. It yielded 70 bushels per acre, considerably above yields that fell as low as 5 bushels in some areas. The other half was planted into corn, which came up with the help of a few small rains.
A couple of weeks ago, the Hetts installed soil probes that measure moisture at depths of 6, 12, 24, and 36 inches. They can check gauges on the probes using their smart phones.
“I can be in another state and know exactly what the soil moisture is in my field,” Alan Hett said.
He still checks the fields occasionally to make sure everything is functioning properly.
“Soil probes save a lot of water,” he said. “We turn on the irrigation only when it’s needed.”
After a 2-inch rain last week, soil at 36 inches was 90 percent saturated.
Soybeans were planted into the wheat stubble, and so far, they haven’t needed irrigation.
“When they put on flowers, they will need a lot of water,” Alan said. “I’ll maybe start irrigating them in a couple of days.”
He is confident that irrigation pays, “as long as the government doesn’t turn the water off,” as happened one year, he said. “Getting water is the big thing.”
If weather forecasts are correct, the irrigation pivots are going to see a lot of use this summer.
“The best year is when you have to only make two rounds,” Hett said, “but I have a bad feeling it’s going to take a lot of rounds this year.”
Using water from a deep well, Svitak Hay Farm of Lincolnville is irrigating 67 acres of corn on a field 3½ miles north of Lincolnville. The field was irrigated last year, so it had subsoil moisture for this year’s spring planting, but Shane Svitak said he gave it another shot of moisture to ensure a good stand.
Svitak uses a moisture probe to check subsoil moisture, and if it’s getting dry, irrigation is used.
“If the surface is dry but rain is expected, we might hold off for a few days,” Svitak said. “But we make sure the subsoil doesn’t go dry.”
Svitak isn’t sure whether irrigation pays because of the costs involved.
“You have to put a lot in to get it back,” he said. Besides maintaining the rig, he applies extra fertilizer for maximum yield. “Mother Nature sure is a lot cheaper,” he said.
Last modified July 2, 2018