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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
SSRP meeting/irrigation project

By Southern Soybean Research Program

The six states that make up the Southern Soybean Research Program (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas) met this summer to review the progress of an ongoing project Developing Irrigation Management Strate­gies for Soybean Production in Humid Regions of the Southern U.S. As each of the states in this multi-state coalition is subject to high levels of humidity (and periods of little rainfall), the group wanted to investigate this topic.

The University of Georgia’s C.M. Stripling Irrigation
Research Park in Camilla, Georgia is regarded as an
innovative irrigation research and education center.

Under the oversight of University of Kentucky’s Dr. Ole Wen­droth, researchers are pursuing three objectives. One, the cre­ation of an easy-to-use, low-cost regional irrigation scheduling tool for soybeans. With a partnership and additional funding from the Georgia Soybean Commission and the South Carolina Soy­bean commission for data collection, this portion of the project is well underway. Irrigation scheduling plot studies are underway using National Weather Data Sets for real time mesoscale analy­sis for precipitation, minimum and maximum temperature. The application algorithm development is progressing, and takes into account the swelling and shrinking of different soil types. The app, still in its prototype stage, uses different soil water potential levels as a trigger point for turning on irrigation.

The project’s second objective is to demonstrate a medium-cost irrigation scheduling tool that incorporates on-site data collection for soybeans, (a new version of the MOIST – Management of Irri­gations Systems in Tennessee – project that has been in use for several crops and is in development for soybean). This portion of the project uses drip and pivot irrigation experiments at small and medium plot scale, zone selection for variable rate irrigation based on soil texture and water holding capacity, and a zone/sen­sor placement study.

This photo shows the actual plots under one of the pivots
utilized in the SSRP research project. Similar plots and
pivots are being evaluated in numerous locations in
various states.

The final objective of this project is to develop a framework for variable rate irrigation. This is of particular relevance to Kentucky farmers, because it addresses the specific needs of the clay soil in their variable soil fields that so many of our farmers are familiar with. It includes satellite imagery which allows for spatial biomass development patterns over time, and recognizes that irrigation scheduling is essential for avoiding runoff.

SSRP Chairman George Martin and Jonathan Miller of Kentucky and other representatives from several member states attended the meeting, which was held at the University of Georgia’s C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park in Camilla, Georgia.

The group was treated to a tour of the facility, which as the name indicates is devoted to irrigation research. It opened in 2001 with 130 acres, 70 acres cropped, with the opportunity for 1,200 research plots. The park is known as the origin of variable-rate irrigation, and is home to Dr. George Vellidis, a pioneer in variable-rate irrigation technology.

The growth of irrigation is explosive In 1970, there were 87 center pivots in the Georgia, irrigating 144,000 acres. The re-search center’s most recent audit showed 13,000 pivots irrigating 1.2 million acres. A new audit is underway now, projecting up to 18,000 pivots in Georgia alone. 

“In our region in the Southeastern U.S., even in wet years, we may not get the rain for the crop when we need it. Applying the right amount of water at the right time is a challenge. Our group is focused on providing a ready-to-use solution for farmers to be responsive to weather conditions, crop water demand, and to be sensitive to variable soil conditions in farmers’ fields. Appropriate irrigation decisions maximize both, farmers’ gain and environmental quality. Our group of researchers from the four states appreciates the support from SSRP and local commodities very much,” Wendroth said.

To find research related to this Research Highlight, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.