When your country usually has sufficient rainfall for growing a crop, where does a British agriculture instructor turn for some hands-on viewing and learning about irrigation?
He seeks out contacts from another agriculture institution “across the pond.”
Last June, 30 students from Reaseheath College, an agriculture school located near Nantwich, Cheshire, England, traveled to Nebraska to learn about irrigation and other Great Plains agriculture practices as part of their 2018 Nebraska Study Tour.
The tour was coordinated through the Office of Global Engagement in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
After visiting some of the university’s research facilities and seeing eastern Nebraska agriculture operations, the group piled into their van caravan and headed to West Central Nebraska.
“Our normal rainfall allows us to farm without irrigation and the farm size does not warrant central pivot,” noted James Bickerton, lecturer and course manager in agriculture at Reaseheath. “The topography of the land restricts flood or gravity irrigation in the United Kingdom (UK), so irrigation is something the students have not really seen.”
At the Don Batie farm, located eight miles northeast of Lexington, Neb., the British group was able to view three different types of irrigation practices all within a half-mile of the Baties’ farm headquarters.
They watched a center pivot in action, viewed how the Baties gravity irrigate and also saw a soybean field irrigated with drip tape.
“In the Level Three course, our arable students completed the root crop and vegetable production module that briefly covered irrigation, but in no great detail, so it was really good for these students to see the irrigation on the Batie farm,” Bickerton said. “Irrigation is found in some arable areas in the UK, but it is usually limited to hose reels and rain guns or boom irrigation. We do have hydroponics and glass house irrigation at the college, which is small scale drip irrigation.”
When Batie started his center pivot from his cell phone, it brought a rush of questions about the technology involved: “How does the pivot know when to stop? How does the pivot tower motors know when to turn on and off to keep the pivot straight? How do the end guns turn off? What does a center pivot cost? How do you know when to irrigate? How much water do you put on each pass?”
Bickerton noted that while center pivot irrigation is rare in the UK, he felt it was important for the students to view the systems and technology.
“Larger farms in the UK may implement it if the changing climate and world food demands continue to increase,” he said.
While the students were in Nebraska, the UK was experiencing a prolonged dry spell that made them wish their own farms had an irrigation option.
“The whole Nebraska experience has enhanced the learning journey these students have undertaken,” Bickerton said. “The opportunity to experience farming on a much larger scale than they have seen in the UK is amazing.”
In addition to viewing the Baties’ irrigation set-up, the students had an opportunity to get in one of their tractors and their self-propelled sprayer and walk the machinery line.
The Nebraska hosts were pleased with the range and depth of questions the students asked.
“The sheer size of American farms, the size of equipment and distances between fields blew their minds,” Batie remarked. “The distance to towns was also mind-boggling. One young man asked how far it was to the nearest pub (bar). When I told him it was roughly 10 miles, he about fell over.”
Batie, who has been to England, noted there’s a pub around nearly every corner and grasped his horror.
Bickerton added the visit was so successful that the college plans to return to Nebraska.
“Our group has seen and experienced things that will help shape their futures in agriculture,” he said. “Along with the hospitality they have had from the Nebraskans, this was one of the best overseas study tours we have been on and we can’t wait to return in two years’ time.”
Barb Bierman Batie can be reached at email@example.com.