Prassack Advisors

Industry Insights

Springr 2016

Managing Water as a Farm Asset: Optimizing Irrigation for Higher Yields

By John Mascoe

President and Founder of  VanCoe Ag Technologies

Agriculture is the most important user of water in the western United States and in most arid regions of the world. As a result of demands of municipalities and increasing concern about the environmental effects of surface water diversions, agricultural interests are under increasing pressure to conserve water.


Increased marginal prices of agriculture water and discussions of trading water as a commodity will further the pressure.  According to research by Blaithin Stack in 2012, only 3% of the water available on the planet is usable and is decreasing as time passes and more water becomes contaminated or polluted.  Corn-belt region growers are challenged with maintaining or improving production levels in the face of persistent droughts and the declining Ogallala Aquifer water tables,. Service providers are innovating to improve usability and measureable results to drive adoption of precision irrigation solutions for growers who seek to gain better traceability and sustainability scores for their green management programs.


For corn producers, there are significant opportunities to further improve water efficiency. By the numbers, nearly 22% of irrigated corn acres still employ inefficient flood or furrow irrigation methods, and only a handful of irrigated corn farms (0.1%) are investing in highly efficient sub-surface drip technologies. Alongside new technology adoption issues is the availability of clean water. With increased municipalization and consumer demands for clean drinking water - groundwater and surface water reserves are being used up. As the original stewards of the land - we need to find irrigation management solutions that work for our farms and adopt them – before someone tells us what we have to use that may not be the best answer for our farm operation.


Here are some topics farmers should follow:


  • Irrigation Scheduling New solutions now provide command and control views, based on imagery maps, for remote management of all irrigation control points.  The control points include management of control pumps, valves, gates, pivots, sprinklers and drip. Regardless of what growers want to irrigate or how they deliver water, irrigation application scheduling solutions link all of the resources through a single system. Growers are now able to carefully plan and control irrigation schedules for all crop types and pastures.  These platforms are purpose built to provide one place for the command and control of irrigation that are both easy to use and can be accessed from any mobile or office based device to make timely and profitable decisions

  • Imagery FOR Prescriptions AND Alerts Using image driven analytics to conserve water and maximize crop yields. New SaaS [Web and Mobile-based software offers] are delivering more accurate daily and weekly field level irrigation prescriptions and crop monitoring alerts to enable more precise decision-making for growers. Combining timely weather data, imagery and irrigation systems status, growers are now able to respond to identified problems before they impact harvest.  


  • Drip Irrigation + Pivots and Linear systems  For current users of irrigation pivots and linear systems, there are new solutions that bring uniform drip irrigation technology alongside existing and new pivot and linear systems to provide further water-efficiency. How does it work? The drip lines deliver water directly to the soil surface. This virtually eliminates evaporation and wind drift and allows more water to reach the soil surface and deeper percolation to the plant root zone. Recent trials have shown that this combined offer boosts yields, while using significantly less water than is typically applied by a conventional irrigation systems.  Also, by keeping water off of leaves and stalks, it delivers water directly to the surface where it can be banked in the soil before it is lost to evaporation.  And, because the water is applied behind the center pivot wheels, growers are able to eliminate deep wheel tracks and soil compaction that occurs with a traditional pivot or linear irrigation system. As a result, the technology allows growers to precisely match the application of water and nutrients with the soil demands.  Most growers have seen a 40% profit increase from improved yields and reduced costs.

  • Variable Rate Irrigation With prescriptions and imagery, new solutions that enable not just zone shut off and start and stop of pivots, we can now do nozzle-by-nozzle control of irrigation and fertigation on the farm.  These solutions allow growers to monitor and control irrigation systems remotely and apply the optimal amount of water or fertigation where needed.  These systems have demonstrated improved crop quality and yield, optimization of water use and efficiency, reduction in costs for fertigation, chemigation and effluent, reduced energy costs for fuel and electricity and fewer trips to the field.  The solution ensures even application, thus reducing run-off and leaching and enables growers to apply water only to the best producing areas within a field.  Most growers have seen a return on investment within one year.


  • Precision Irrigation Consultants The critical piece to successful design, install and measured results from more precision in irrigation is a partnership with your trusted irrigation solution consultant.  It is important to verify their track record.  You will want to confirm their experience with your type of farm and crop; as well as with the technologies you seek to adopt.  Ask for references from other farm customers.  The specialized skill sets in agriculture irrigation and performance in the field is critical to the success of implementation at your farm operation.



Agriculture is the most important user of water in the western United States and in most arid regions of the world. As a result of rapid population growth and increasing concern about the environmental effects of surface water diversions, agricultural interests are under increasing pressure to conserve water. Proven financial results from adopting precision irrigation technology are the key driver alongside the conservation benefits that will improve marketability for grain production. For some crops, the water savings from investment in modern technology is large—close to 50 percent per acre. What is critical to success is the proper design and investment in modern irrigation technologies.