Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) on Corn

"SDI is different, but you'll like it." - Roger Johnson, SDI user since 2007Roger Johnson isn’t new to farming, he and his family have been farming in the Midwest for decades. Johnson’s first experience with subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) wasn’t until 2007. In 2007 Johnson converted his first 100 acres from flood (gravity) irrigation to subsurface drip irrigation and hasn’t looked back.

“Gravity irrigation was always feast or famine. It could be good at one end, but not good at the other,” Johnson explains. Equal water distribution was just one of Johnson’s troubles with flood irrigation. Another issue was the length of time it would take for the gravity fed system to apply water to the opposite end of the field about ½ mile away. It could take three weeks to irrigate just 85 acres before Johnson made the switch to drip

Johnson’s wells were also being maxed out using flood irrigation. On one system he was pumping 800 gallons per minute for the flood irrigation system. Now with drip irrigation, the same system is set to pump at 600 gallons per minute, greatly reducing his energy and water costs.

Water isn’t the only input that Johnson has been able to reduce. He used to apply nitrogen just once in the fall or spring. Now with drip irrigation Johnson can spoon feed his crop by applying smaller amounts of nitrogen through his drip irrigation system three times a season, precisely when the crop needs it. Even with reductions in water and fertilizer, Johnson is still seeing a large increase in his harvest. With the gravity system he was averaging 185 bushels per acre of corn, with drip irrigation he yielded 265 bushels per acre – a 43% increase!

Johnson’s success and early adoption to subsurface drip irrigation has impacted other growers in his community. It was apparent to his neighbors that subsurface drip irrigation was working and worth their investment too. Since Johnson’s system was installed, he estimates that 5 or 6 other systems also popped up.

Labor and maintenance is required for a subsurface drip irrigation system but Johnson describes the maintenance as “nowhere near as labor intensive as the gravity systems were.” Johnson believes his lasting success with SDI is due to his maintenance regimen, “Keep the system clean, use good filters, and flush regularly.”

Johnson’s experience with his first 100 acres of SDI has made it a simple choice to convert the rest of his acres to drip irrigation. “SDI is different, but you’ll like it,” he says with a smile.

Johnson’s amazement at drip irrigation hasn’t changed with time. “You can turn on the water and go to the other end of the field and it is running. It’s amazing!”

Johnson also attributes his success with SDI to having a great system design, installation, and support from Western Irrigation/Multi-States Irrigation, an irrigation dealer based in Garden City, Kansas. Randy Wildeman, president of Western Irrigation, prides himself on the company’s commitment to quality and their long term relationships with the growers they support. Wildeman and his team are professionals who realize that water is a precious resource and businessmen who understand that the goal of a producer is to be profitable. Western Irrigation is an authorized Eurodrip USA Dealer.

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