81-Year-Old Missouri Farmer Tries Subsurface Drip Irrigation

 Bellflower, Mo., farmer Russel Winter uses his phone to track weather and the markets while          
 helping trench a ditch for subsurface drip irrigation.

 Photo credit: Photo by Linda Geist

Part 2 Of A 2 Part Series

   Winter follows outlook trends offered by MU Extension economists, including Abner Womack, professor emeritus of agricultural economics and co-founder of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI). He is regular at Womack's impromptu coffee gatherings with farmers in the Montgomery City area. He checks the weather each morning before planning his day’s work, and he monitors market prices hourly from his smartphone.
   Last year, MU Extension held a session on subsurface drip irrigation at Lee's Warren County farm. Researchers also demonstrated MU’s free Crop Water Use mobile web app ( to schedule crop irrigation. Winter couldn’t attend because he was receiving chemotherapy. When Winter’s treatment course was over, Lee volunteered to give individual training on how drip irrigation works.
   In addition to offering more flexibility than pivot irrigation, drip irrigation also prevents wetting of crop leaves, reducing the likelihood of foliar diseases, Lee said. It can decrease water use by as much as 25 percent. Water-soluble fertilizers such as nitrogen can be applied through drip irrigation.
   There are a few drawbacks, Lee said. Rodents can chew through drip lines, especially when the soil is loosened during installation. Water filtration requires frequent monitoring for particulates that could clog the emitters. Another concern is bacterial growth inside the drip tape, but this can be managed through acidifying agents.
   Both surface and well water work with an SDI system, but an irrigation water-quality test is the first step in evaluating SDI for your operation. ∆

 Russel Winter, left, and MU Extension agronomist Rusty Lee, right, use subsurface drip 
 irrigation (SDI) at their farms. They built their own trenchers for the drip lines, and Winter helped design the water  pump and filtration unit for his SDI system.

 Photo credit: Photo by Linda Geist
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