Incentives for modernizing

Center pivot drip hybrid — The wave of the future?

By Tharran Gaines, adapted from the Fall 2016 T-L Irrigation View

Imagine a $120-per-acre investment that could reduce irrigation expenses by 30 percent or more, while increasing yields by at least 20 percent. According to Bob Gruner, who farms southeast of Amarillo, Texas, those aren’t fantasy figures. His records show that installing a mobile drip irrigation system on a half-mile pivot a year and a half ago provided exactly that kind of result.

The idea seems simple enough. The system consists of in-line drip hoses in place of nozzles or sprinkler heads that are dragged by the center pivot or lateral move system. On Gruner’s farm, the in-line drip system was installed on an electric-drive unit.

As the hoses are pulled through the field, emitters deliver an even water pattern across the full length of the pivot or linear system. In effect, this hybrid technology combines the best of both worlds.

Gruner put the hybrid system on a 270- acre pivot that he would typically divide between 90 acres of wheat, 90 acres of corn and 90 acres of fallow. He installed the system, which consists of drip hoses on 40-inch centers, in June 2015. “However, this time we split the circle between 135 acres of wheat and 135 acres of corn,” Gruner added.

“Where our average on wheat is normally 50 to 55 bushels per acre, we saw a 68-bushel-per-acre average under the new hybrid system,” Gruner said. “And the corn did equally well. Our normal average on late corn is 175 to 180 bushels per acre; yet, under the hybrid circle, we averaged 210 to 220 bushels per acre that first season and just over 250 bushels per acre this year.”

Bob Gruner, Amarillo, Texas

At the same time, Gruner said he was able to shut off the water a month early on the hybrid field due to the amount of water in the soil profile, even though the farm only received 5½ inches of rain during the year. In fact, he has the soil profile charts that compare the hybrid field against a field with drop hoses and low drift nozzles [LDN] on 60-inch centers that was receiving 30 percent more water. With each

20 Irrigation TODAY | July 2017

application, the water applied with the in-line drip system penetrated all the way into the root zone, while the LDN heads concentrated the water in the top 3 inches of the soil profile.

“In our part of the country, it can take four hours for water to seep into the soil. But with the in-line drip hoses, the water spreads out and seeps into the soil before it has a chance to run off, evaporate or blow away in a mist,” Gruner said. “We’re on limited water in this area and the well on the whole 270-acre pivot only puts out 500 gallons per minute. So we have to conserve as much water as we can.”

“I was a little concerned that because the hoses are on 40-inch spacings, we would see some striping in the wheat,” he admitted. “But that never happened. Now, if we had sandy soil, like they do in some areas, we might need the hoses to be closer together.”

Gruner acknowledged that the hybrid system requires a little more maintenance than bubblers or LDN sprinklers. While it may not be necessary everywhere, Gruner

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