Travis Youngberg grew up on a farm between Payette and Weiser, Idaho, farming with his father. He now rents some of his father’s fields and an adjacent field. He has farmed this rented piece for 6 years, raising dairy alfalfa hay with wheat as a rotation.
“This particular field has a bit of slope. Flood irrigating wasn’t efficient, especially with all the gopher holes,” said Youngberg.
The irrigation headgate was also leaking, ready to wash out. Part of the field is lower, and the previous renter jury-rigged some old sprinkler pipe through the ditch bank to drop water down to that piece in a lower ditch, irrigating it with tail water.
“It was difficult to water that part because it was hard to adjust, and only received tail water from the other portion. I never knew when it was going to get there,” he said.
A 40-foot bank along one side was another challenge. If a gopher made a hole in the tail ditch, the bank would erode. He needed a better way to irrigate the field and thwart erosion.
After the first year of trying to irrigate that field he talked to the landowner about utilizing a government program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to do it.
“I got some cost estimates, and my landlord liked the sound of it, realizing it would help the field,” said Youngberg.
The cost-share program made it feasible.
“I applied for the program and agreed to do some water management and nutrient-management related practices, to help with funding opportunities,” he said. For three years he did water and nutrient management after putting in the sprinkler system.
Engineers at NRCS helped design the irrigation system and checked it out after it was installed. Crop yields have increased.
Before, with flood irrigation, there was no way to water the field evenly, especially with the gopher problem.
“Parts of the field I just couldn’t get wet, and I also had to be careful on the edges so I didn’t get too close to the bank and wash it out — and the landlord’s road,” said Youngberg.
He kept the water quite a ways away from the edge and sacrificed a lot of that area for crops. The middle of the field also had dry areas because of gophers. He tried trapping them but more came back.
After he switched to sprinklers he could water the crop right to the edge, and manage the irrigation better.
“With flood irrigation you have to wait longer to get the water all the way to the bottom of the field. By the time you get it there, you’ve really soaked the top; you can’t give it a light irrigation. When cutting alfalfa every 28 days, I want to get the water across quickly and get it off so the ground will be dry enough.”
With flood irrigation some of the top would still be wet.
“The crop might need a little more water at the bottom, but I couldn’t do that because it took too long to get across the field — and by the time I was ready to cut it, it was too late. Timing on dairy hay is very critical, so I had to let it run a little bit out of water. I was stressing the crop because I didn’t have enough time to get across it, and lost some tonnage,” Youngberg said.
“Now with the sprinklers I can run a 12-hour set and just do a light irrigation if I need to, and adjust it to however many hours it needs,” he said.
The field now yields much better than any of his flood-irrigated fields, while using less water.