Water-Saving Upgrades

Irrigator Pro, now available as a mobile-device app, helps farmers enhance water conservation and on-farm efficiency.

irrigation proIs water the new gold? When you consider that about 1 percent of the Earth’s water supply is available for human use, coupled with a growing global population, the comparison makes sense. Across the United States and beyond, farmers are looking for innovative ways to conserve water while maintaining or boosting crop yields.

With this goal in mind, leading farmers like Marty McLendon are helping others manage water more efficiently. McLendon and fellow members of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District in Southwest Georgia have used a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to partner with other groups to advance technology available for water conservation.

The result? Irrigator Pro now comes with a new tool – an app that allows farmers to access irrigation water management practices right from their mobile device. Irrigator Pro, which has been used to manage and schedule irrigation, can now be accessed right from your mobile device.

“Our goal through this project, and many others, is to significantly advance conservation through partnership and innovation,” McLendon says. “Irrigator Pro will aid farmers throughout our region in making decisions that enhance both water conservation and on-farm efficiency.”

What is Irrigator Pro?

Irrigator Pro is an irrigation scheduling tool for peanuts, cotton and corn that was first developed by the Agricultural Research Service’s National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Georgia. It’s a system designed to provide recommendations based on scientific data resulting in conservation-minded irrigation management.

A team of agriculture and conservation partners in Georgia recently unveiled an updated version of the system to now include a smartphone app and web-based platform to increase accessibility. Irrigator Pro is available for free in the Apple and Google Play Stores, or online at IrrigatorPro.org.

How was the new Irrigator Pro app developed?

The Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory and the University of Georgia to develop a smartphone app and cloud-based web platform for Irrigator Pro. Over the last two years, the team has worked to further develop, refine and test the new version of Irrigator Pro to ensure it is consistent and user-friendly.

What makes Irrigator Pro better than before?

irrigator pro smartphone app display

Examples of Irrigator Pro’s smartphone app display.

Irrigator Pro is a trusted tool by many farmers and crop consultants in the Southeast. However, a major barrier to increased accessibility and adoption was the time-consuming nature of the original version of the tool, which required hand-reading soil moisture sensors in the field and manual entry of data into a desktop software platform to generate an irrigation recommendation.

The new version, supported through a CIG, takes the science and models from the old version and integrates them with modern technology to automate the process. Data is retrieved remotely from sensors in the field and automatically sent to the Irrigator Pro server, generating a real-time irrigation recommendation on the app.

The website, IrrigatorPro.org, syncs with the app and has additional capabilities that can be configured by users to help document meeting USDA conservation program requirements.

How does Irrigator Pro help farmers enhance efficiency and production?

Irrigator Pro is designed to optimize water use while maintaining or improving yields. The tool utilizes real-time field conditions — including soil moisture, soil temperature and crop growth stage — to generate an irrigation recommendation.
In a 2018 study at the University of Georgia’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park, researchers evaluated several irrigation scheduling methods for peanuts.

The new version of Irrigator Pro out-performed all other treatments in both yield and irrigation water-use efficiency.

What’s next for Irrigator Pro?

This season, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Southeast Aquatics Resources Partnership, the partner team will be launching a hands-on project with over 40 farmers in Georgia, Florida and Alabama to use Irrigator Pro and soil moisture sensors on irrigated peanut farms.

In the future, project partners would like to expand both the crops and geographic capacity of this tool to help farmers across the country optimize their irrigation decisions.

How can farmers access Irrigator Pro?

Visit flintriverswcd.org/irrigator-pro to learn more about Irrigator Pro and access a link to download the app — it’s free! Visit farmers.gov/conserve to learn about additional tools and programs that are available to help you meet conservation goals across your working land.

Article by Chris Groskreutz, USDA and Casey Cox, Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District.

Update To Checkbook Method Reduces Water Requirement

One of the original tools used for irrigation scheduling is the “checkbook method,” in which producers water a field a specific amount each week reaching a total water requirement of 23 inches for peanuts over the course of the growing season.

However, after multiple years of research at the University of Georgia’s C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park, Wesley Porter, UGA Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist, says the recommendation has been revised down to 18 inches.

“It was observed that the old method was recommending too much water, but the new recommendation is better adjusted to the current varieties and environment,” Porter says.

Through this research, Porter saw that the original checkbook method, an evapotranspiration average based on historical data, didn’t produce the highest yields. Thinking the crop was being overwatered, he tested applying 50 percent of the checkbook method.

“We obtained favorable yields out of reducing (the water recommendations) by half, but I knew that was too low and that farmers would not feel comfortable irrigating this little,” he said.

Porter then set his sights on finding the peanut crop coefficient data, which is a scaling factor that accounts for crop age, growth and development. He combined this data with 15 years of research from UGA’s Georgia weather stations and calculated a new state crop evapotranspiration average.

Through this formula, Porter produced a new peanut water-use curve that reduces the checkbook method’s water requirement down to 18 inches. Porter and his team believe that peanuts don’t require as much water as was once calculated, possibly due to emerging varieties.

“We feel like the varieties that are being produced today are more efficient,” he said.

Porter stresses that growers who use the checkbook method will still need to monitor rainfall and subtract that amount from the total amount required by the crop for each week. He also cautions farmers that the checkbook method won’t be an exact fit in years that are either wetter or drier than normal, as it will over-estimate or underestimate water needs in those years.