“The relationship between water and yield is the foundation of irrigation management,” says Collin English, chief investment officer for Irrigation for the Future. The company uses irrigation management software for field-specific irrigation.
“Water is the main input needed for crop production,” he says. “Final yield is directly related to the amount of water available during the growing season. Today, most producers irrigate with a ‘crop per drop’ mindset, focusing on maximizing yields. We focus on costs, including pumping and profitable fertilizer use and yield potential of each irrigation to find the most profitable strategy for each field and crop for more ‘profit per drop.’”
About 52 million U.S. crop acres are irrigated, including 541,000 Illinois acres, finds USDA’s 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, using about 79 billion gallons of water per day.
“Irrigation efficiency will become critical as water becomes increasingly limited,” says English. “As the value of water increases, producers will move toward that ‘profit per drop’ mindset. And that will demand more precise irrigation management with a more accurate picture of what water is doing in the field. That is not as easy as it sounds, but the software helps.”
He expects some regions will eventually incentivize irrigation efficiency similar to water markets like the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia. But managing for optimum profit makes sense regardless. Producers can use field data to track crop input costs, including water and irrigation energy, against yield and crop price, to figure out the best support for existing water.