Irrigation Efficiency

 Bubba, as C.D. Simmons is called, discusses switching to the
 Pipe Planner Irrigation System and it’s ease and efficiency in watering crops.

 Photo by John LaRose, Jr.

Newest Tools Regulate Irrigation ... And Conserve Valuable Water

C.D. “Bubba” Simmons III, of Arcola, Mississippi, is one of 28 soybean growers, researcher and crop consultants making presentations at the 19th Annual National Conservation Systems Southern Corn & Soybean Conference.

MidAmerica Farmer Grower

   Switching to the newer Pipe Planner Irrigation System has made watering crops more efficient and easier for Bubba Simmons, who raises 4,200 acres of soybeans and 1,500 acres of corn in the Mississippi Delta.
   “With Pipe Planner, I can add more detailed information, get a lot better output, better results, and it’s free,” he said.
   Bubba, as C.D. Simmons is called, was raised on a farm that his grandfather, Leo Williams, and father, Doug Simmons, farmed in the Mississippi Delta. He attended Mississippi State and graduated in 1998 with a degree in agricultural economics, then he returned home to the farm. “I always knew I would come home to the farm and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
   When he was growing up, most farms in the Delta were cotton farms, however, his family also grew rice, and soybeans. In fact, they have been in the rice business until about two years ago when they took rice out of the mix, but they hope to return to rice when the market reopens.
   After college, Bubba joined a farm partnership with his parents, Doug and Jane Simmons, and his sister, Cynthia Simmons Cook, that is still in force.
   The family started growing rice in 1974, and stopped growing cotton on a large scale in the early 1980s.
   “I would have to say we were rice farmers who happened to grow soybeans, which also was pretty typical in the Delta,” he said. “You were either a cotton farmer that grew soybeans, or a rice farmer who grew soybeans. Today our crop mix is soybeans and corn. We’re probably 75 percent soybeans and 25 percent corn now, and that mix fluctuates based on the market and crop rotation.”
   While the farm is set up for rice, corn and soybeans thrive here.
   “Our average field size is probably 40 acres with a raised pad all the way around,” Bubba said. “It’s an ideal rice farm, and furrow irrigation of soybeans also works well.
   “There were several center pivots here when we bought this part of the farm 20 years ago,” Bubba explained. “And because we were in the rice business and wanted to grow rice, we took down those center pivots and created these roughly 40-acre fields that we thought were a good size for management.”
   There’s about a one-tenth to 1.5 tenths slope in the fields, making it simple to grow rice and also irrigate corn and soybeans very well.
   Yields have risen during his time on the farm.
   “I can remember even in the 17 years that I’ve been back on the farm, if you cut in the high 40-bushel or 50-bushel soybeans, that was a really good yield,” Bubba said. “In the 50 bushel range was something to be proud of. These beans now that we’re harvesting are in the 60-bushel range, and I’m really not too pleased with that.”
   The last two years yields have been extra good.
   “We’ve had cooler summers, and soybean yields are as high as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for fields to average in the 80-bushel range which is really good for the Mississippi Delta. Overall, 4,000 acres, we averaged closer to 70 bushels the last few years. This year is going to be less. There has been a lot of stress on the crop, a wet, cooler May. I didn’t get a good start on planting, and then there was extreme heat in July, the hottest July on record. That makes it tough when you couple that with a year where the market has taken a downturn too.”
   Markets play a big role in crop planning. “Rice has been a very good crop for us and if the price of soybeans and corn continue to be a little depressed and the price of rice improves we would certainly grow rice again,” he stated. “One of the reasons we have gotten out of the rice business is these glyphosate resistant weeds and the need to spray more chemicals. We were having a lot of drift issues and had to replant rice every year while also seeing yield loss based on Roundup in the rice.”
   This year Simmons used predominantly Asgrow  seed, but also some Progeny. However, while most of the corn was DeKalb, he also planted some Terral.
   “We have been irrigating soybeans for a long time; because we were rice farmers, our land was graded and set up to do that,” he explained. “We’ve made great strides in the last few years, we have really moved forward in our irrigation practices and the way we’re irrigating. We feel like we’re doing a lot more efficient job now.”
   At first, the soybean irrigation was pretty primitive, and they weren’t convinced that it paid to irrigate soybeans. Soybeans weren’t raised as intensely in the Delta as they are today.
   “One thing in particular about irrigation, we didn’t have the tools years ago that we do now,” he said. “We didn’t have GPS to measure elevation, we didn’t know about flow meters to measure the flow, we didn’t have any computerized hole selection or know how to select the right size hole in poly tubing. Poly tubing itself was not the quality that it is today. Our land wasn’t quite as precision leveled then, so we had contoured levees in the rice. Today everything is straight so we’re just set up to irrigate a lot more efficiently now.” 
   The farm is basically land leveled, except for two center pivots. The family spent a lot of time and money leveling the land.
   “We did probably 80 percent of it ourselves,” Bubba explained. “In fact my father had a land forming business when I came back to farm. He started that mainly to do our own work, but we did some custom work as well.”
   The farm is nearly 100 percent irrigated. The two center pivots that were renovated from the cotton days help put out water, but there also are dryland corners, the only dryland areas of the farm. The center pivots cover between a half and a quarter mile row, bringing water to about 450 acres under that circle.
   “Most of the wells are about 70 feet to water on average,” he explained. “We’ve got shallow water here and we do have an abundant supply of water. Our aquifer is very prolific and it does recharge, unlike other areas of the country where they don’t recharge very quickly. We’re aware and we’ve known for quite some time that we’re overdrafting our aquifer, meaning we’re taking out more than is being recharged naturally; however, we’re really making efforts in the Mississippi Delta to conserve water.
   Bubba has been working with Jason Krutz, Mississippi State Irrigation Extension Specialist, since he came on staff. The family does as much as they can to save water; also, soybeans have the potential to save the most water because most acreage is in soybeans. That’s a present day situation.
   “I don’t know how many acres of rice we had this year in Mississippi, but that number does fluctuate; it’s probably down a little from it’s historic high, and certainly, cotton acres are down and they’ve been replaced with grain crops, corn and soybeans, that use more water.”
   At first the Simmons farm was using Phaucet irrigation, but today they’ve gone to Pipe Planner, software offered by Delta Plastic. Pipe Planner is a computer program where the operator feeds much information into it before use. Bubba does all of that himself.
   “Pipe Planner actually uses the same formula or algorithm to compute this hole size,” Bubba explained. “Phaucet was released by Missouri NRCS in the 1990s, so it’s an old program. It’s not as easy to use as Pipe Planner, and what I’ve found with Pipe Planner is I can add more detailed information to that program and get a lot better output, get better results from using it. It’s available free through Delta Plastics to anyone who wants to set up an account. So Pipe Planner is much like Phaucet, we are inputting our flow rate. In places where we don’t have permanent flow meters, we take a portable meter and measure flow, we input that information; then, in Pipe Planner we are able to look at a satellite image of our field and determine the furrow length. We’re able to drive a tractor equipped with RTK GPS and capture elevation and upload that also in Pipe Planner, so it gives us the most precise output.”
   Bubba captures as much data on the field that he can and feeds that into the program. Unlike Phaucet, Pipe Planner is a web-based program, so it can be accessed from anywhere on any device.
   “I can design fields on my smart phone, or on my tablet,” he explained. “I’m really pleased with the software. There are measuring tools on there that you can use to divide fields into different sets to get the best management for your irrigation plan.”
   While Pipe Planner doesn’t necessarily provide more information than the old system, it offers it in much more detail.
   “I just feel like the information is much more detailed and the output is better and easier to operate,” he said. “That’s the main thing, better, more detailed information, and ease of operation.” 
   Bubba feels that by creating a more efficient plan and putting in more detailed information, there’s the likelihood one can increase water savings, although the program doesn’t actually control the pumps.
   “You still operate the well. It just selects the optimum hole size to evenly distribute water through the field,” he said. “Other tools that we’re using along with that are surge valves which have been used in the midwest for some 20 years. These send a pulse of water down one set of pipes, and another pulse of water down the other, and this eliminates runoff and provides more even distribution of water in the field.
   “The other thing that we’re using on a larger scale this year are flow meters,” Bubba noted. “We’re cooperating with NRCS on our EQIP project for additional flow meters and surge valves, irrigation water management which includes a computerized hole selection tool and also soil moisture sensors, which, we’ve added quite a few of those this year. These are all tools that I worked on with Jason Krutz a few years ago.
   Delta Plastics gets a high five from Bubba on assistance with any concerns. He finds they have been good to work with and are very helpful in educating farmers to use the program.
   “I think the most important thing with education in regards to Pipe Planner is the availability of a very detailed video on how to use it,” he said. “The Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board, along with Delta Plastics, have created a video and I assisted in some of the filming for that video. It’s available on youtube and it’s accessible through Delta Plastics’ website. Delta Plastics provides excellent technical assistance.”
   On top of all his other involvement, Bubba is dedicated to promoting soybeans.
   “I’m a member of the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board and three years ago I was appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to the United Soybean Board where I served on the meal action team. I have participated in some international travel with the United Soybean Board. This past month I represented the United Soybean Board and Bret Davis represented the American Soybean Association in a trip to India where, along with the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC), we learned about the Indian soybean industry and the potential for U.S. imports.”
   His affiliation with the United Soybean Board takes a lot of his time.
   “I probably travel 20 something days a year with the United Soybean Board and still participate in the local promotion board and the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board. When we were growing rice, I was active in the USA Rice Federation and the Mississippi Rice Council also,” Bubba concluded. ∆
   BETTY VALLE GEGG-NAEGER: Senior Staff Writer, MidAmerica Farmer Grower
MidAmerica Farm Publications, Inc
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