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Let’s Talk About Ag BMPs: Irrigation Best Management Practices

By Yilin 

In this session of the “Let’s Talk About Ag BMPs” series, we met with Dr. Vivek Sharma from the University of Florida Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department to discuss Irrigation Best Management  Practices. We got to pick Dr. Sharma’s brain on the definition of Irrigation BMPs, the differences between Traditional and Best Management Irrigation Practices, and  the type of Irrigation BMPs  to use depending on what crop is being produced.

According to Dr. Sharma, the main goal of Irrigation Best Management practices is to maximize irrigation application and crop water use efficiency while reducing potential contamination of water resources. This can be achieved based on soil and plant characteristics to maintain the water and fertilizer levels in the crops. Irrigation Best Management Practices involve the selection and maintenance of appropriate irrigation systems for the crop being produced by adjusting the irrigation method, irrigation scheduling, and irrigation amount.         

Traditional irrigation methods usually require a great deal of experience and guesswork. This includes feeling for soil moisture level by hand following visual cues, and using the neighborhood irrigation schedule. Dr. Sharma suggests using soil moisture sensors or evapotranspiration (ET) based irrigation scheduling that can count for plant and soil characteristics as well as other parameters.

Soil Moisture Based Scheduling will monitor the changes of the soil’s water content to help control the irrigation schedule and prevent waste. Evapotranspiration Based Irrigation Scheduling can also be referred to as the Water Balance Approach or the Checkbook method. This practice estimates the soil’s water status in the crop root zone by estimating all incoming and outgoing water from the soil. The change in soil water status is estimated using equations and is used to determine how much water should be used in irrigation. Many agencies are working to make the adoption of these practices easier for producers statewide. The Florida Agriculture Moisture Sensor Network adopts soil moisture based scheduling. Extension Agents not only educate the producers how to properly use soil moisture sensors to improve irrigation efficiency, but also lend them soil moisture sensors. The goal is to increase the adoption of irrigation BMPs to maximize groundwater and nutrient use efficiency and reduce water resource contamination in the state of Florida.

Florida is home to many different crops, such as field , specialty , and tree crops. These crops all require different irrigation methods. Traditionally, crops like corn and peanuts are produced using an overhead sprinkler system and can benefit most from installing soil moisture sensors or using the Checkbook method (ET based irrigation scheduling). Specialty crops, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, are generally grown over a raised bed on plastic mulch with a drip irrigation system. Designing an effective and proper irrigation system for specialty crops is based on field topography, proper selection of drip tapes, and microirrigation systems based upon groundwater use. Irrigation BMPs can also help combat and protect crops from frost, which is very critical for tree crops like citrus and strawberries during the winter months.

There are a few key barriers to implementing Irrigation BMPs. They are the different costs associated with buying and maintaining irrigation BMP systems as well as a lack of technical fluency with the machines. However, all five of Florida’s water management districts as well as the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) provide cost-share programs. Cost-share programs can help producers gain funding for irrigation management and equipment. You can read more about cost-sharing opportunities hereTechnical and Financial Assistance Available for Producers to Implement Agriculture Best Management Practices (BMPs) in Central Florida. There are organizations, such as Florida Agriculture Soil Network, that provide education to increase adoption of irrigation BMPs. 

Source : ufl.edu

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