Stretching your resource dollars

There is more to irrigating a crop than simply turning on the center pivot. The good news is more information is available than a generation ago to help growers stretch their resources.

Monty Teeter, with Ulysses, Kansas-based Dragon-Line, has brought precision irrigation to precision farming.

“For over 45 years people have perfected drip and pivot irrigation and we have married the two proven concepts to Dragon-Line that combines the efficiency of drip technology with the flexibility and economics of mechanical irrigation,” Teeter said.

Dragon-Line’s design is a patented process that allows farmers to use a low gallon system so growers can continue to irrigate and at the same time help them to irrigate with 20% to 50% less water and save up to 60% of the energy bill without changing the gross amount of crop production, he said.

If a farmer has a 200-gallon-per-minute well on 120 acres and is watering in 30-miles-per-hour wind, he is probably losing 50% to 90% of his water, as an example, without the Dragon-Line process. Evaporation loss is significant, he said, particularly when the crop’s canopy is at its early stage.

His company’s design offers pivot irrigators with other solutions, Teeter said. “We eliminate wheel track issues, reduce compaction, crusting, soil sealing and runoff,” he said. “We eliminate wetting the foliage. That helps with less disease and insect infestation.”

The system delivers water and nutrients and places it precisely in the soil, he said. “We set the soil in a small strip, plant in that same strip, germinate the crop in that strip and now winch it over a few inches right or left during the season,” Teeter said. “This prevents germinating all the weeds and saves an estimated 80% of water to get a crop going with an 85% to 95% germination rate of seed.”

Farmers face many decisions each year and are often reluctant to change, but they will make changes in their irrigation operation if they know there is a water deficiency or economic energy crisis ahead.

“It took 30 to 50 years to get where they are today and change will happen when these factors occur or the government sets new standards on how much water one can use,” he said. “Everyone thinks that if they see the water on the surface, one thinks he is irrigating. Little do they know that every time they wet the surface, they are evaporating the water on the average of 30% to 50% into the atmosphere.”

Dragon-Line has shown to be a difference maker and is now in 20 states and 12 international countries. The company was named runner-up for the Kansas Exporters of the Year contest in 2020 and was recognized as Innovator of the Year in 2019 by the International Irrigation Association.

“Change is being recognized all around the world, not just Kansas,” he said.

The key to extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer for future generations of growers is to recognize and have policies in place that focus on saving water and sustainability, he said, or irrigation may not be viable in many areas.

“My farm has 180 gallons per minute for two pivots watering 200 acres,” Teeter said, adding he has been able to produce good crops. “It’s not how much big water you have, it’s how you utilize the small water. I make my 200 gallons work like 400- to 500-gallons per minute.”

Additional information about Dragon-Line is available at

Water quality counts, too

NutraDrip Irrigation Systems, Hiawatha, Kansas, is in a region where rainfall is generally plentiful, but CEO Kurt Grimm said applying water without the right mix of nutrients is inefficient.

NutraDrip started in irrigation business in a region that annually receives about 28 inches of rain, he said.

“For us we started to use the irrigation system as a nutrient delivery system. Those two are tied together in our business model,” Grimm said. “If you have an irrigation system but you don’t address the nutrients, then you aren’t optimizing the water.”

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Water quality impacts efficiency, too, he said, in sharing a story from the company’s own research.

In 2020 on a NutraDrip farm there was a good rainfall and he supplemented with 5 inches of water through a center pivot. The corn crop yielded 24 bushels less than the dryland area outside the pivot’s reach. Researchers went through extensive testing that included soil and water probes. What they found was the irrigation water had bicarbonate in it, which had tied up nutrients in the soil.

“No matter how much water we put on, the nutrient was the limiting factor and we wasted all that water,” Grimm said. “This is something guys are going to see if they don’t get ample amounts of rain.”

Water quality is a topic growers need to continually evaluate, he said. “If we look at bushels of corn produced per inch of water applied via irrigation or rainfall there is a lot of efficiency to be gained,” Grimm said.

Rigorous testing of water and soil is a strategy he recommends to all growers. One of the tests he likes to use is a H3A extraction, which looks at plant-available nutrients in the soil. What he found on his own research farm was the available calcium was 20% less where he had been irrigating versus the non-irrigated while the base calcium levels were the same. The bicarbonate was tying up the calcium and making calcium unavailable in the soil. A regular soil test may not indicate that, he said.

“Most water samples are 300 to 400 parts per million bicarbonate and you can equate that to pounds of bicarbonate per acre foot of water applied so in other words if a guy irrigates 12 inches of year and he has 300 ppm bicarbonate load he has tied up somewhere around 900 pounds per acre of cation,” he said, adding that calcium is the ion that gets tied up the most.

Water and nutrients together is the key, he said, noting that as the aquifer tables get lower the water quality will also decrease, he said.

His company’s subsurface drip irrigation has taken off in the last couple of years as it gains traction. He works closely with growers because it requires a different management approach.

The subsurface drip irrigation applies water via underground drip tape. Small pressure regulated emitters are evenly spaced on the drip tape allowing growers to evenly irrigate their entire field, according to the company website The water then goes directly to the root zone where the plants need it most without excess runoff or evaporation.

Building up carbon

Trisha Jackson, director of regenerative agriculture with Kansas-based PrairieFood, said her top recommendation for conserving moisture starts with building carbon in the soil.

“Carbon is a sponge for water, so a carbon rich soil captures and stores more rainfall, which reduces the need for irrigation,” Jackson said. “Increasing soil organic matter by 1% will increase a soil’s water holding capacity by 25,000 gallons per acre.”

Cover crops are another source of preserving moisture, she said. When cover crops shade the soil they not only keep the temperature down they also slow evaporation. A soil that is 70% covered takes days to weeks longer to dry out compared to bare soil.

“Cover crops not only conserve water but they also build soil carbon, which helps increase water storage capacity and they help with nutrient cycling and prevent soil erosion too,” she said. “These benefits add to the bottom line through savings on irrigation costs and inputs.”

An advantage for irrigators is that liquid carbon can be applied through the pivot, which is a product PrairieFood offers, she said. Once it hits the ground it fires up Mother Nature to build soil health.

A measuring stick for soil health is to see if soil organic carbon increases, Jackson said. By increasing the carbon sponge in the soil, there is less demand for irrigation.

One way to build soil health soil carbon is to keep a living root in the soil as many months out of the year as possible, she said. Living plants photosynthesize to grow and store energy, but they also trickle carbon into the soil through their living roots to feed soil microbes—the foundation of soil health. Plants feed soil microbes because soil microbes help feed the plant by transforming soil nutrients into plant-available forms.

By taking care of soils, the need for expensive inputs decreases, Jackson said. These ideas are central to regenerative agriculture and that the system increase yields the same time as healing soils, cleaning up water and air, all while improving the lives of farmers, their families and communities.

Irrigation can boost production in semi-arid regions, she said. However, since most soils cannot capture and store as much water or cycle nutrients as they could, growers do have the opportunity to address water issues surrounding quantity and quality as a healthy soil reduces the needs for inputs and better holds onto any nutrients that are applied.

Her company provides the opportunity for producers to avoid the yield dip when transitioning to regenerative practices to health the soil and recover some of the functions. Additional information is available at

Teeter has been involved in irrigation for nearly 50 years but he believes the Lord put him in an industry to make a long-term difference.

“I am an innovator and inventor to help people to be better stewards of the God-given use of this fresh water in which to live,” he said. “I was born and still work in Grant County (Kansas). The future for irrigators is bleak in the next five to 15 years without significant changes. I am praying that my perseverance will not be in vain and it will help growers save this water for the future.”

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].