Enabling Producers To Use Water And Energy Efficiently

Enabling Producers To Use Water And Energy Efficiently

June 6, 2008

The Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Demonstration Network

The Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Demonstration Network (NAWMDN) was established to increase adoption of newer technologies to conserve water and energy resources associated with irrigated crop production. It established a system for testing improved technologies for measuring crop water use and soil water status and created a network of growers, crop consultants, UNL extension, NRDs, NRCS, and others to enable the adoption of water and energy conservation practices.

The network was established in early 2005 in a partnership between UNL Extension and the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District (UBBNRD). The Little Blue NRD and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) became partners in 2006. The Tri-Basin Natural Resources Districts, the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, and the UNL Rural Imitative became partners in 2007. The newest partners in 2008 include the Nemaha and Lower Big Blue NRDs.

Good Tools Provide Reliable Soil/Water Information

The type of technology used to monitor crop water use and soil water status is critical to the project's success. Tools need to be accurate but easy to understand and operate, and data gathered from these tools should not be difficult to interpret. Atmometers (ETgage, Figure 1) are used to monitor crop water use in the network. An atmometer (ETgage) is one of the alternative tools that can be used to mimic evapotranspiration (ET) rates. This information along with crop growth stage can be used for irrigation management.

The simplicity of the use and interpretation of the ETgage data, as well as its economic feasibility, makes it easy for farmers to monitor crop water use for effective irrigation management. In this project ETgages are used to estimate crop water use, and Watermark sensors are used to measure soil moisture to determine irrigation timing and amount. For more information on these tools see the UNL Extension NebGuide, Modified Atmometers (ETgages) for Irrigation Management (G1579). The ETgages are usually placed at the edge of the irrigated field or service road for easy access. Watermark Granular Matrix sensors are simple, economical, durable, and accurate tools to monitor soil water status. See the story in this week's CropWatch, Measuring Soil Water Status Using Watermark Sensors.

Watermark sensors and one ETgage were installed in each demonstration field. In 2005, there were 18 demonstration sites. Some of the ETgage and Watermark sensors were read by growers and some were read weekly by Network core members. In 2006, the second year of the project, there were more than 50 demonstration sites. This past year, in 2007, we had more than 125 cooperators in nine NRDs and 22 counties involved. We expect to have another 100 producers involved this year. Each year, NAWMDN team members organize educational meetings during the growing season and over the winter to implement the project, teach participants how to use the ETgage and Watermark sensors for irrigation management, review the results, set goals, and obtain grower feedback. This project has been reported at local, regional, and national meetings.

On-line Tool Aids Reporting

The NAWMDN team now has an online application where collaborators can report weekly ETgage information and others can check data. To view the Weekly Reference ET information go to: http://elkhorn.unl.edu/ETGage/We are actively seeking more reporting sites around the state. Producers or consultants who have ETgages and would like to post their readings to the site should register at: http://elkhorn.unl.edu/ETGage/jsp/register.jsp

Growers, crop consultants and others who would like to learn more about these tools and become a cooperator can contact any of the personnel listed at the NAWMDN Contact Web site.

Gary Zoubek
Extension Educator
NAWMDN Team