Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
The 2017 Innovation Grant Program is well underway, with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) investing more than $250,000 in 23 farmer-led projects focused on conservation. Throughout the summer we will be highlighting ongoing projects focused on how to better manage nitrogen and protect water quality.
For 13 years Brian Velde of Wood Lake has varied the rate of fertilizer on his fields using 2.5-acre grid soil sampling to determine the fertilizer rates, as well as productivity zones to determine the seeding rates.
Now with the help of his innovation grant, Velde has installed state-of-the-art drip irrigation in a 58-acre plot on their farm, allowing him to spoon-feed his crop with both water and nitrogen.
“This feeds the plant just enough nitrogen, only what the plant can utilize, not any more, not any less,” said Velde. “The theory is, with the plants using all the fertilizer, nothing escapes into water beyond the farm.”
The system of pressurized drip-tape, spaced at five-foot intervals and buried 14 inches below the surface, is split into six zones controlled by in-ground moisture sensors and above-ground plant temperature sensors. Since Velde uses 30-inch crop rows, the five-foot spacing of the irrigation lines, placed in the middle of every second row, means every corn row in the field is within 15 inches of on-demand water and nutrients.
This system allows Velde to better adapt to the extreme variability in his farm’s soils, which range from sugar sand soil all the way up to heavy clay loam.
To best quantify the effectiveness of the system, he left three strips with no irrigation and worked with University of Minnesota Extension experts to design data collection.
Nutradrip, a Kansas-based irrigation company, installed the system in April with a special plow that laid down three lines of drip tape at once. Then crops were planted in early May.
For his water source, Velde turns to Yellow Medicine river, which runs along the edge of his farm. With a DNR permit to deliver six acre-inches of water per year, Nutradrip installed a pump right in the river. Using a filtration system, he draws up sediment-loaded river water and runs it through three parallel tanks filled with sand to strip out the dirt and organic particles. What comes out has the appearance of drinking water.
And by placing irrigation lines underground no water is lost to evaporation, increasing the overall sustainability of the farming operation.
If you are going to be at Farmfest in Redwood Falls this August be sure to stop by the MCGA tent at the corner of Seed Road and Seventh Street to see Velde’s project up close. A display will be on hand that replicates the drip line he uses in his field.