Water technology farm investigates the right fit

Pat Janssen describes part of the farms he manages as beaches. Well, kind of.

“Best way to describe our farm for the most part is a beach with no ocean, it’s pretty sandy,” Janssen said at the Water Technology Field Day, Aug. 23, in Larned, Kansas.

Janssen is the primary farm manager of the WaterPACK/ILS Farm located near St. John, Kansas, in Stafford County, Kansas. Innovative Livestock Solutions was approached by the Water Protection Association of Central Kansas or WaterPACK several years ago as the group initiated and provided funding for this project.

According to the Kansas Water Office, the first tech farm completed its third year in the project and chose to apply and start a new project. The goal of the second project is to develop a farm that is more financially feasible for the average farmer. Janssen said the primary focus will be setting up a sprinkler package with various nozzles, basic soil moisture technology and requesting advice from an agronomist throughout the season.

Janssen said the first tech farm, which had the Dragon Line experiment on it, went very well, but discussions in the off season left him and others feeling like widespread adoption of the mobile drip irrigation system like Dragon Line was “very unlikely in our area,” he said.

“Because the well capacities we have and just a number of management factors that might get a little more challenging to deal with,” Janssen said. “But we didn’t feel that it really fit our area.”

The product is “excellent and has a place,” Janssen said, so he and the team regrouped and decided they wanted to go with a conventional sprinkler package. They paid attention to pumping plant evaluations and strove to get all equipment functioning properly, with correct pressures, the right regulators—“the whole nine yards,” he said.

“And then go to the high level irrigation scheduling and see just what we could do if we were running on the razor’s edge,” he said.

In this particular project, they were able to have two circles side by side. One has a reduced flow rate between 550 and 600 gallons per minute, while the other is about 875 gallons per minute. To date, on the first circle they’ve applied 10.2 inches per acre and the other has applied 13.2 inches and “that’s tied back strictly to well capacity,” he said.

With a bigger well, the system is a little harder to manage. It’s hard to go out there when temperatures are over 100 degrees and shut it down for 12 to 18 hours, then have to go start it right back up.

The circles in this tech farm both have excellent irrigation water management and minimal soil stress besides the two different well capacities. Corn planting dates were about nine days apart.

“We had 15 to 20 inches of rain in May and June in some areas,” Janssen said. “I don’t know if it applies to these two fields but we have seen some soil surface compaction on our personal farm that we’ve had to deal with. And then of course we went through the monsoon season in the desert.”

On the previous tech farm at ILS, corn yields were between 230 and 240 bushels to the acre on an entire section. Four pivots had the mobile drip irrigation Dragon Line on it the final year, and the application rate ended up being 30% less than the rest of the pivots that year.

“There’s a lot of variation in the water duty, harvested bushels per inch water applied,” Janssen said. “We really think that we can get by with less flow rate and water, and I say our vision is coming back with something that everybody can implement or adopt without having to reinvent the wheel and use existing equipment for just a little bit of technology.”

Janssen called the technologies just one piece of the puzzle.

“We’re doing a number of things where you’ve got to have good partners if you’re going to jump off into some of these things,” he said. “Because you’re going to need their depth of knowledge and experience in the first few years. You can do this and then you can get a little bit cocky, like I am, until I get caught.”

Janssen has been benchmarking against a couple of neighbors who irrigate fairly “aggressively.”

“We’re consistently coming in 15% to 20% under them on the applied water,” Janssen said.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Eyes on it

Earl Lewis, acting director of the Kansas Water Office, gets to see the vision of the water technology farms first hand.

“This really was an outgrowth of the vision effort that we had under Gov. (Sam) Brownback around the state for water problems, how we address it,” Lewis said. “One of the things that we heard, especially talking about groundwater decline, and some of those issues were really three things.”

Those three issues were voluntary incentive based program, goals with action plans tailored to local areas and third, impact of technology on farming.

“We all know technology and changing technology is affecting all of us more and more in our daily lives,” Lewis said. “Irrigation technology maybe is now catching on, and other parts of farming are maybe just a little bit ahead as far as technology implementation.”

The water office kept hearing from people that the technology is being adopted, but not every area is the same and not every farmer does things the same way.

“They wanted to see how some of this technology would be if it were on actual producer’s property and hear from that producer what worked and what didn’t work,” Lewis said.

The project has grown in the last four years and Lewis believes that goal has been accomplished.

“This is, in my opinion, one of the better public private partnerships that we’ve been involved with and heard about,” Lewis said. “Obviously the producers are our biggest partner, and we thank Water Pack and ILS for being a leader and taking a little bit of a chance here to make things work.”

There is a large investment by the private side in the project, for those who invest and help facilitate the program.

“But really this is a good private effort,” Lewis said. “We’re very happy.”

Armando Zarco agrees with Lewis. He’s the water resource planner with the Kansas Water Office, Garden City, Kansas.

“Some of this technology has been around for a while, but a lot of people just didn’t know about it,” Zarco said. He says the Water Office’s goal is to educate Kansans and help them understand the resources available to reduce water use

Cooperators also look at water and soil quality during the program.

“We’re trying to see what the data shows over different climates,” Zarco said. “I’m not asking, or praying, for a drought, but we’re just saying, if one comes around, we’re going to see how this technology can be utilized more effectively.”

There are 15 tech farms across Kansas, and KWO is looking for more in the north-central part of the state. The newest one near Troy, Kansas, is actually the first dry land tech farm.

“We’re hoping to see how some of this technology can help to make decisions based on the soil on the water profiles there,” Zarco said.

For more information about the water tech farms visit www.kwo.ks.gov/projects/water-technology-farms.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].