2019 UNL-TAPS highlights SDI systems

Farm numbers for the 2019 Subsurface Drip Irrigated Corn Farm Management Competition held at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, Neb. Each team has a randomized plot located in blocks A, B and C. The SDI system was donated and installed by Eco-Drip Irrigation Systems, Inc.

All sections of the 2019 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Testing Ag Performance Solutions Farm Management Competition are proceeding well, according to program coordinator Dr. Daran Rudnick.

The 2019 TAPS started Tuesday, March 12, at the Bayer Crop Science Water Utilization Learning Center in Gothenburg, Neb. The competition is carried out at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, Neb.

This being the inaugural season for subsurface drip irrigation use, particular attention has been focused on how things have been progressing for those contestants. Eco-Drip of Hastings, Neb., donated, designed and installed an SDI system for use in the contest. Eco-Drip is a full SDI company specializing in design, installation and support of SDI solutions for irrigation and fertigation.

“SDI is relatively new to most growers in Nebraska and we would like them to become more aware and comfortable with the technology,” said Colby Gardine, Eco-Drip branch manager.

The Eco-Drip team also would like growers to better understand the many benefits that an SDI system can provide.

Rudnick added, “Management of SDI systems can be considerably different than alternative systems, due to typically higher flexibility in irrigation cycling (i.e., frequency and duration) and delivery of fertilizers/chemicals. The development of an SDI TAPS Farm Management Competition will allow existing SDI producers to evaluate their management strategies against their peers and University recommendations. It also will provide an opportunity for producers interested in adopting SDI to demonstrate and learn how to manage it prior to adopting it on their own farms.”

Among the 16 SDI corn competition teams, 11 different hybrids from six companies were selected for the inaugural year. The seeding rate ranged from 28,000 to 34,000 seeds per acre with the average and median being 32,625 and 33,000 seeds per acre, respectively. The most commonly selected hybrid was Pioneer 1366 AML. The SDI competition was planted May 13, at a depth of two inches using a six-row precision planter.

“The previous week was very hot and dry, where we started to see a lot more depletion in stored soil water,” Rudnick said. “However, we received approximately two inches of rain Sunday, July 21.”

On July 25, the teams completed their third fertigation event targeting VT/R1. Fertigation is used to add additional nutrients or to correct nutrient deficiencies detected in plant tissue analysis.

“There are quite a bit of differences across teams and their management,” Rudnick said. “We are also starting to see differences in nitrogen and irrigation, but I cannot disclose that information yet.”

The SDI competition is well-instrumented, with each team having access to the following forms of technology:

  • Soil moisture sensor by AquaSpy
  • Plant stem sensor (shrinking/swelling) by Phytech
  • Canopy sensor and weather conditions by Arable Mark
  • Imagery by Airscout, Terravion, and
  • Climate Weather and imagery by FarmersEdge
  • Weather and marketing insight by DTN

Some of the above technology is only accessible by the individual team, but others are accessible by anyone. The Arable Mark is available to each contestant.

Each of the TAPS teams was provided with an Arable Mark plug-and-play crop sensor and access to the data and insights generated throughout the season. Given the design of the TAPS SDI competition this year, growers have complete control on the timing and amount of irrigation and fertilizer through the drip lines, allowing them to optimize based on environmental conditions and growth stage. The sensor provides field-level information on precipitation, leaf wetness, growth stage and forecasted weather conditions, enabling users to ensure application of water and fertilizer is producing the greatest ROI.

“TAPS participants are some of the most progressive, highest-producing farmers on the planet,” said Jamie Hardy, interim head of marketing for Arable Labs of Princeton, N.J. “Their real-time input on product development, data visualization and measurement accuracy, and the data delivery mechanism is invaluable to our own growth.”

The UNL-TAPS program has been hosting interactive real-life farm management competitions that evaluate profitability and input-use efficiency. Contestants in each competition make decisions on a number of management options for their “farm”, which includes three plots equal to around a half an acre. These decisions, depending on competition, can include: Crop insurance selection; hybrid selection; planting density; marketing strategy; irrigation scheduling and quantity; and fertilizer timing, amount and method.

These competitions bring together UNL scientists and extension professionals, producers, industry leaders, agriculture students, government regulators and agency personnel to become part of a highly engaged network focused on evolving profitability and input-use efficiency. This low-risk environment offers participants the ability to test a large variety of strategies and technologies, as well as gives them access to a large dataset from the competitions at the end of the year.

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.

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