By JACK WEATHERLY
Preliminary results from a water conservation experiment in the Mississippi Delta are encouraging, according to partners in the field trial.
A collaboration by PrecisionKing, C Spire and the JF Phillips Farm shows water usage already has been reduced by up to 53 percent for corn fields and from 50 to 65 percent for soybean plots since the beginning of the 2018 growing season, according to a news release.
“We’re optimistic this approach will save water and improve overall productivity and crop yields,” Nick King, president of the Yazoo City-based PrecisionKing, said in the press release.
PrecisionKing makes remote monitors to measure water distribution and absorption.
While the final results won’t be known until the end of the growing season, the plan is to compare standard irrigation practices on row crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton with the new automated system that features moisture sensors monitored from a computer, smart phone or tablet.
“Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry sector and we need to help growers embrace precision farming practices and Internet of Things (IoT) systems that can increase efficiency, boost yields and conserve groundwater resources,” said Stephen Bye, president of Ridgeland-based C Spire. “Automation and analytics are the key factors that will help us deliver on that promise.”
Recent research shows IoT can increase yields by up to 15 percent and revenue by $100,000 annually for a typical 1,000-acre farm, according to the release.
The Mississippi River Valley Alluvial Aquifer — one of two major aquifers in the region and the one that is closer to the surface and is the source for agricultural irrigation — has dropped dramatically in recent years.
Since the water from that formation is high in iron, it is not good for drinking water or for industrial use, according to the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District.
Irrigation got underway on a large scale in the 1970s in the Delta and since the 1980s water wells there have proliferated — from about 3,000 to 18,000 using the aquifer as of 2015, or 80 percent of the wells in the state, according to the district.
More than 36,200 farms covering 10.7 million acres, much of it in the Delta, produce products ranging from cattle to catfish, poultry to pecans and horses to horticulture, according to the Mississippi Development Authority.
Nick King said managing water resources will help an industry that employs 29 percent of the state’s workers and generates over $7.6 billion annually for Mississippi’s economy. “We need to do more with less and IoT technology-based innovations will help farmers deliver on that promise.”
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