Growing Peanuts One Drip At A Time

Texas producer, Mike Patterson, talks about his use of drip irrigation to make the most of available water.
By Michael Harper, Texas Peanut Producers Board Communications Intern

With water continuing to be an issue throughout the state and the Ogallala aquifer currently in decline, many farmers are turning to more efficient irrigation methods such as drip irrigation. One such farmer is Mike Patterson, a native of Hockley County, who for the first time this past growing season used drip irrigation on his fields.

Patterson is among the first to use drip irrigation on peanuts and to great effect. He achieved higher peanut yields this past year, but with new technology comes new challenges.

No Room For Water Loss
“We’re still learning this stuff…you have to crawl before you can walk,” Patterson says about his new system, but adds that it resulted in a pretty crop that garnered a lot of compliments from neighboring producers.

Patterson says there are some definite advantages with a drip irrigation system. First and foremost, drip irrigation delivers water to the crop more effectively than any other irrigation method he’s used in the past. He is most surprised by the minimal water he lost due to evaporation.

“The drip system irrigates my crop three times over a 24-hour period. I felt that the system used water more efficiently,” he says.

With the lack of rainfall and soil moisture on his fields in 2012, Patterson could not use the dual-action herbicide he had intended to. He also has concerns about his drip tape being damaged by rodents and other animals from the adjacent field established in permanent grass in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Despite these drawbacks, Patterson considers drip irrigation a good investment.

Planning And Financial Assistance
For producers considering drip irrigation, Patterson has some advice, such as enlisting the help of an irrigation consultant and the technical assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Patterson worked with an irrigation consultant during the planning and installation phase of his drip project and felt that it helped to ease the transition to a new system.

He worked with the NRCS to secure Environmental Quality Incentive Program funding to help with the cost of installing a drip system.

Lynnette Payne, NRCS district conservationist in Levelland, Texas, explains what EQIP can offer to producers looking for a financial advantage.

“In today’s economy every little bit helps, and so if they can get financial assistance to help install the practice, they will be able to get a more efficient system,” Payne says.

Farmers who are interested in securing EQIP funding for the purpose of installing a drip system should be aware of the application process. The main qualifications Payne outlined are the need for farmers to have an irrigation history and the required minimum flow rate of three gallons of water per minute/per acre to receive approval.

Figuring Out Maximum Acres
Once the application is approved, the producer must submit a plan for their drip irrigation system, which is then reviewed by NRCS engineers and is either approved or sent back for revision.

One such engineer, Keith Sides, explains that engineers are looking for a minimum flow rate available to the farmer.

“The other big one that will throw it out in a heartbeat is not meeting the minimum efficiency that goes along with that system,” he says.

The minimum system efficiency required by the NRCS is 90 percent, which means if you take the highest and lowest emitter flow, there will be no greater than five percent difference. Sides further explains that the topography of the land has a significant effect on minimum efficiency, with flat land causing as much as 20 percent difference in the minimum efficiency.

Use The Resources Available
Sides advises producers to plan their drip systems according to the amount of water available to them.

“What happens is you take the total flow that’s available to that system, then you go through the process with the individual drip-tank manufacturers and figure [out] a flow per acre,” he says. “Then, divide the flow per acre into your total flow. That gives you the maximum acres that you can irrigate at any one time.”

Once the maximum acres that can be irrigated is determined, the farmer can decide what areas of their land they will irrigate using drip.

To install drip irrigation,
Mike Patterson:
• Enlisted the help of an irrigation consultant during the planning and installation phase of his drip project.

• Worked with the NRCS to secure EQIP funding to help with the cost of installing a drip system.

• Met the minimum flow rate and system efficiency as required by NRCS for his project to be approved.

Sides further advises producers to ensure that the drip tape is installed at the right depth to prevent damage to the tape from farm machinery. He also says that, in the case of peanuts, it may be necessary to supplement the drip system with pivot irrigation. This combination ensures that the upper layers of soil receive adequate moisture and aids in the growing process.

Drip irrigation can be a worthwhile investment for those interested in using the water resources available to them more effectively, and especially for those willing to seek out the expertise of NRCS and irrigation planners, plus the financial assistance available.

When asked about the possibility of expanding his drip irrigation system, Patterson says, “with cost share and the government paying part of it,” it would be silly not to.

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