Who gets the prize for greatest yield by least water? Look no further than the 2018 winners of Crop per Drop, Arkansas’ Irrigation Yield Contest in corn, rice and soybeans, a first-of-its-kind competition measuring bushels and water use by adding a flow meter and rainfall to yield numbers.
Jason Bennett, Mikey Taylor, Matt Morris and Richard Morris won Arkansas’ unique irrigation battle in 2018 with the highest bushel yields per acre inch of water. Basic rules: Grow the most with the least. 30 acres of irrigated ground; 3 acres of skip-patterned harvest; and a maximum of one active metered water inlet.
Crop per Drop is the brainchild of Chris Henry, water management engineer at the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center (RREC) in Stuttgart. Henry’s team marked and sealed all flow meters to prevent tampering, and checked competition sites in-season. He believes an irrigation contest with practical value for growers equates to research fields across the state: “Maximum yield is easy; try doing it with just the right amount of irrigation. So many great growers try so hard to squeeze everything they can out of a field and we want to channel that focus and reward their efforts with this contest.”
Placing No. 1 in the corn category, Jason Bennett, Bassett, Ark., hit 226.9 bu. per acre corn with a water use efficiency of 10.55 bu. per acre-inch on just 8.4 ac-in/ac of irrigation water, while most Arkansas growers typically average 18.1 ac-in/ac of irrigation, Henry notes. Bennett used soil moisture sensors (multiple Irrometer Watermarks and an AgSense Aquatrac), the Arkansas Watermark mobile app, computerized hole selection (Pipe Planner), and surge valves (P&R Surge) during the contest. Average yield for all corn entrants was 217.5 bu. per acre, and the average water use efficiency for corn was 9.61 bu. per acre-inch.
Topping all Arkansas rice growers, Lonoke County’s Matt Morris and his father, Richard, yielded 226 bu. per acres (Ricetec 7311) alongside a water use efficiency rate of 7.80 bu. per acre-inch on a meager 16 ac-in/ac of irrigation. (The average water use in the rice verification program in 2018 was 24.6 ac-in/ac.)
The Morris duo used a Davis Enviromonitor Weather Station, the UA “Rice Irrigation” mobile app, surface water reservoirs and tailwater recovery, alternate wetting and drying, and N-ST*R nutrient management to place at the front of the rice group. Average yield for rice entrants was 210.7 bu. per acre and average water use efficiency was 5.17 bu. per acre-inch. The contest field is also the oldest commercial rice field in Arkansas.
Mikey Taylor of Phillips County topped all soybean growers in 2018, tallying 103 bu. per acre with a water use efficiency of 3.92 bu. per acre inch on 10.3 ac-in/ac of irrigation applied.
Arkansas farmers report 16.3 ac-in/ac of irrigation is typically needed to fully irrigate soybeans, according to Henry. Taylor used a mix of cover crops, variety selection and computerized hole selection (Pipe Planner) to lead the soybean category. Average soybean yield for contest entrants was 71 bushels per acre and average water use efficiency was 2.84 bushels per acre-inch.
Prizes included $10,000 in cash for the corn and soybean categories, and $11,000 in seed tote credit for the rice category. Winners also received a 10” portable flowmeter with FS-100 flow straightener; a 10” P&R Surge Valve and Star Controller; a 10” DamGates Surge Valve and Controller; $1,666 check from Delta Plastics; base station and soil moisture monitoring node from Trellis; three Watermark soil moisture sensors, a manual reader, and $500 cash from Irrometer—totaling over $21,485 each in cash and products.