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Precision Irrigators Network: On-Farm Research Demonstration to Evaluate Irrigation Scheduling Tools in the Wintergarden and Texas High Plains

G. Piccinni, D. Leskovar, W. Harman, B. L. Harris

Proper management of irrigation water is increasingly important for growers in the High Plains and Wintergarden, two of the most important agricultural production regions in Texas. Water pumping and allocation limits imposed by the Edwards Aquifer Authority and local water districts constrain production in these areas.

Due to these constraints, the need arose for growers to shift their irrigation strategy from full/unlimited water application to a strategy where irrigation must be used to minimally supplement rainfall and available soil moisture. The Texas Water Development Board, recognizing the need for agricultural production to become more efficient in their water use and to foster adoption of precision irrigation practices, funded a project entitled Precision Irrigators Network: On-Farm Research and Demonstration to Evaluate Irrigation Scheduling Tools in the Wintergarden and High Plains (known as the Precision Irrigators Network or PIN II). The project was developed by Texas AgriLife Research and Texas Water Resources Institute and was initiated February 14, 2006. Scientists in the High Plains and Wintergarden with Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Centers at Amarillo and Uvalde worked with growers to demonstrate the need for real-time knowledge of crop water use and the necessity for careful attention to the amount of water available to effectively irrigate and manage crops to optimize economical production.

Specific objectives of the PIN II project included: 1) encouraging producers to implement limited irrigation to alleviate excessive water use; 2) conducting on-farm demonstrations where growers were actively involved in evaluation of precision irrigation programs that best fit their farms; 3) educating growers about precision irrigation and use of tools such as potential ET, crop water requirements and soil water availability; and 4) determining the effectiveness of decision support systems, such as Crop Evapotranspiration (ET) and Crop Simulation Models (i.e., CroPMan) and Crop ET, for optimizing timing and quantity of in-season irrigation. Throughout the two-year span of the project 21 grower fields were involved in demonstrations in the High Plains and 18 grower fields involved in the Wintergarden. An additional 5 growers were involved in vegetable crop demonstrations for monitoring soil moisture, but these growers were not subject to modeling.

Data collected from on-farm research demonstrations for row crops was used to validate the CroPMan model as these methods provide producers the ability to manage irrigation and production practices in a most water efficient manner.

This project built upon successes achieved through the Precision Irrigators Network: On-Farm Research Demonstration to Evaluate Irrigation Scheduling Tools project (PIN I) initiated December 1, 2005. The results of these projects continue to help High Plains and Wintergarden growers increase irrigation efficiency and improve irrigation strategies, as well as provide crop coefficients and water-use requirements of agronomic and vegetable crops.

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