Implementing Innovative Irrigation Practices to Protect Groundwater Quality and Quantity
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Award Overview
Funding: $3.5M USDA NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) award, match by all project partners
Project Sponsor: Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Project Partners: 20 Soil and Water Conservation Districts: Becker, Benton, Cass, Dakota, Douglas, East Otter Tail, Grant, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Wadena, Washington and West Otter Tail.
Central Lakes College Ag and Energy Center, AgCentric, Northern Center of Agricultural Excellence, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Irrigators Association of Minnesota, Central Minnesota Irrigators, Todd-Wadena Electric Coop, Reinke Manufacturing, RD Offutt Farms, RESPEC Consulting, University of Minnesota, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and Minnesota Department of Health.
Summary: This 5 year project is designed to work directly with agricultural producers using irrigation in the project area to implement conservation practices that protect groundwater quality and quantity, promote expanded precision irrigation practices, build professional capacity to guide farmers in applying conservation practices, promote and organize farmer to farmer learning opportunities, utilize partner’s expertise to design innovative approaches to expand conservation efforts, and to quantify the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the implemented practices.
Background: Areas of the state being irrigated often have coarse textured soils where the groundwater is susceptible to nitrate contamination. The groundwater has elevated levels of nitrate in some of these areas. Most of the population in the irrigated areas obtains their drinking water from either private or public groundwater wells. Groundwater withdrawals for agricultural irrigation may impact on the groundwater-surface water hydrology, such as reduced streamflow. The Groundwater and Agriculture Report that was done by the EOT SWCD and the Freshwater Society documents that agricultural producers are willing to adopt BMPs that address these issues if some education and financial assistance are available. A few other take-aways from the report include:
- New technologies in irrigation and nitrogen management is released at a rapid rate and this has resulted in challenges for producers to keep up with and understand those technologies.
- New technologies also provide massive amounts of data and require time and education to interpret for applying to the individual farm business. A typical farmer can handle selected data, i.e. yield data, but is often uncomfortable with the learning curve associated with incorporating larger amounts of data from additional new technologies into management decisions.
Project Purpose: To achieve and quantify environmental, economic and social benefits of practices that increase irrigation water use efficiency, reduce degradation of surface and groundwater, decrease erosion and reduce energy use, and build professional capacity.
Approach: Provide financial and technical support to irrigators willing to adopt and integrate proven precision irrigation and nitrogen management practices and technologies to help address groundwater quality and quantity issues in the primary irrigated areas of the state.
The project will focus on conservation irrigation practices utilizing a flexible, tiered approach where irrigators can participate at the level that is relevant for their operation and attitude towards technology adoption and risk:
- The first tier include implementing the relative inexpensive practice of installing advanced soil moisture sensors in irrigated fields to enhance water management through irrigation scheduling.
- The second tier include installing precision irrigation packages, including updates to panel, nozzles and VFD pumps.
- The third tier include advanced irrigation package along with newest technology for irrigation water and nutrient management. This will include recent, proven systems using remote operation technology, crop status sensors and variable rate fertigation systems.
Anticipated Outcomes: Anticipated outcomes include:
- Precision irrigation technologies and practices are promoted.
- Cooperating producers implement irrigation water conservation technology and/or practices that fit their operation.
- Training opportunities are provided for SWCD/NRCS/private industry staff to expand their technical knowledge of precision irrigation and nutrient management.
- Environmental, economic, and social aspects of implementing the technology or practices for cooperating producers is evaluated by the leadership team and reports specific to each area are prepared annually.
- Activities for each implementation tier of the project is recorded and monitored, and reports are prepared on an annual basis.
- Partnership between multi-government agencies (local, state, Federal), educational institutions, private industry, and producer groups is strengthened.