Who gets the prize for the highest yield using the least amount of water? Look no further than the 2018 winners of Crop Per Drop, Arkansas’ irrigation yield contest. The first-of-its-kind competition measures bushels and water use by adding a flow meter and rainfall to yield numbers.
Jason Bennett, Mikey Taylor, and Matt and Richard Morris won the irrigation battle with the highest yields per acre-inch of water. Basic rules include: Grow the most with the least on 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 in Stuttgart. Henry’s team marked and sealed all flow meters to prevent tampering and checked competition sites during the growing season.
Henry 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.”
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 flow meter 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 more than $21,485.
Placing No. 1 in the corn category, Jason Bennett, Bassett, Ark., hit 226.9 bu. per acre with a water use efficiency of 10.55 bu. per acre-inch on just 8.4 acre-inch per acre of irrigation water, while most Arkansas growers typically average 18.1 acre-inch per acre of irrigation water, Henry notes. Bennett used soil moisture sensors, the Arkansas Watermark mobile app, computerized hole selection and surge valves 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.
Mikey Taylor of Phillips County topped all soybean growers, tallying 103 bu. per acre with a water use efficiency of 3.92 bu. per acre-inch on 10.3 acre-inch per acre of irrigation water. Arkansas farmers report 16.3 acre-inch per acre of irrigation water is typically needed to fully irrigate soybeans, according to Henry. Taylor used a mix of cover crops, variety selection and computerized hole selection to lead the soybean category. Average soybean yield for contest entrants was 71 bu. per acre and average water use efficiency was 2.84 bu. per acre-inch.
Topping all Arkansas rice growers, Lonoke County’s Matt Morris and his father, Richard, yielded 226 bu. per acre with a water use efficiency of 7.80 bu. per acre-inch on a meager 16 acre-inch per acre of irrigation water. The contest’s average water use was 24.6 acre-inch per acre. The Morris duo used a weather station, the University of Arkansas rice irrigation app, surface water reservoirs and tailwater recovery and alternate wetting and drying. Average yield for rice entrants was 210.7 bu. per acre and average water use efficiency was 5.17 bu. per acre-inch.