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  • NutraDrip Irrigation

New Technologies




Introduction 

Today we will review a number of new technologies that NutraDrip is learning about. These cover a wide range of uses and are as follows: 

Irriwatch – whole field moisture monitoring via satellite 

NutriSens – Soil probe that monitors potassium and nitrate throughout the growing season 

Manure Separation  

Deep Pit Aeration  

Green Lightning – Nitrogen produced on the farm 

There is some very interesting and promising technology in the above list. As always, we at NutraDrip want you, the farmer/producer, to meet your yield and profit goals; the above technology has the potential to assist with that, and even more so when using the agricultural technologies simultaneously. 

 

Virtual Soil Moisture Monitoring with Irriwatch 

One of the top recommended technologies for monitoring whole field moisture and gathering data to make educated irrigation decisions is Irriwatch. This is a virtual soil moisture monitoring program that combines daily thermal satellite images with algorithms to give you very accurate temperature and moisture data for your entire field.

 



 

We started testing this virtual probe tool in 2023. At the end of June, it was really dry in northeast Kansas. The irrigation was running heavily, especially for June. Looking at the maps above, you can see on June 23rd, zone 3 was showing stress; the irrigation on zones 1 and 2 had run, but not zone 3. We turned zone 3 on June 24th, and by June 25th you can see the field evened out. From an irrigation management standpoint, this is an important tool. In- field soil moisture probes are helpful for zoning in on one specific area, but this shows the whole field. When these two tools are used together, it makes for an excellent combination to ensure optimal irrigation management.  



This is a center pivot that was being monitored close to Morrill, KS. As you can see, the different areas of the field are getting dry or wet at various times. Again, a highly effective irrigation monitoring tool.





This is part of the same dashboard through Irriwatch. This is called a virtual soil moisture probe. If you are familiar with soil moisture probes, you are used to watching the graphs from in field permanent probes. The goal of soil moisture monitoring is to keep the moisture between saturation and wilting point, aka the plant’s happy place. On this graph, the blue area is saturation. The red line is wilting point. Optimally, the moisture should be targeted to remain in the green, somewhere between those two points. The above graph is from southwest Missouri; the soil got very wet early on in the season, then dried out at the end of June. Soil moisture rebounded through July and August once their irrigation applications started catching up.  

 



This graph shows which days an image was taken; other imaging tools say they will get a picture or image every 4 to 7 days due to clouds, etc. The only substantial gap we saw here was between August 1st-6th. The weather was wet and cloudy, and the satellite couldn’t see through the clouds. The model continues to work in the background, so you still get some data, but not the updated images. The frequency of the images is what makes this an effective tool. Every day would be ideal, but that is not realistic. So far, the Irriwatch tool is frequent enough to add a lot of value.  



Their irrigation planning tools show a prediction of what the soil moisture is going to do based on the biomass. Irriwatch measures the biomass, with a lot of different layers you can look at. One of them is actual ET, or evapotranspiration, which is the amount of water that leaves your field every single day. They measure that and give you a daily value of ET.  Looking at the chart above, you can see early in May, the ET was less than 5/100ths of an inch. As the season progresses into June, it increases to 1/10th of an inch. By July 25th, there were days the field used between 4/10ths to half an inch each day.  

 




 

These graphs are from Kelly Garrett’s field. There was an in-field soil moisture probe (top chart) and the virtual soil moisture probe from Irriwatch (bottom chart). You can see that the actual probe was installed at the end of June – this is one of the challenges of annual soil moisture probes; getting them installed at the right time. There was a large rain event on the 1st of July. The soil moisture probe picked that up, as did the virtual probe. The drying out time is slightly different between the two probes, but still shows the field as dry around the same time. The Irriwatch tool is $4.50 per acre for a season, so it is very economically priced for a lot of valuable data sets.  

NutriSens 



NutriSens is a real time, soil NUTRIENT sensor used to monitor nitrate (N) and potassium (K) levels in the soil every day. It’s like a soil moisture probe except it measures nutrients N and K instead of moisture. NutraDrip used this in 2022; in 2023 there were supply issues so unfortunately, we were not able to get any. In 2024, we have 10 of these available. The probe measures the ions in the water similar to what a plant would be able to pull out of the soil. The graphs look like soil moisture probe graphs.  

 

 



 

In this graph, you can see the nitrate value. It climbs and falls somewhat like moisture.  



This slide is the one that really tells the story. The top graph is the nutrient potassium, and on this NutriSens tool you install one sensor in the root zone, and you install a sensor under the root zone.  In this case, one sensor was 8 inches deep, and the other was 24 inches deep. You can see that late in the season (around the 1st of August) the potassium dropped quickly on the corn crop. This is a typical struggle; we never have enough potassium during grain fill. This trend did not surprise us, but it was alarming to see potassium levels in the soil fall that fast. Tissue samples echoed that same trend. What surprised us is the bottom graph. This shows the nitrate levels, and at the end of the season, right around the same time frame the potassium dropped, the nitrate levels on the deep sensor skyrocket. The field had fall applied anhydrous and heavy clay soils with a CEC of 20-35. There is a belief on our farm that we do not leach nitrate. With a CEC of 25, the field should be able to hold 250 pounds of nitrogen; it has impermeable subsoil but after this sensor was placed, we realized the nitrate is below the root zone late in the season. Those are dollars that we just flushed down the toilet. If this is happening on heavy clay, what does sand, or loam look like?  

 

NutraDrip plans to place 10 sensors in 2024 on different soil and management practices and learn more in the coming year. Measuring nitrates and knowing where they are going is a big deal, as it will most likely be closely regulated soon

 

Water Quality 



 The picture above shows the 2020 yield of a pivot near us. This is not picking on pivots, as it is a water quality issue and would happen with drip as well. In 2020, we had great rainfall, and the outside of the pivot yielded 29 bushels per acre better than the inside. Why did this happen? 



After digging into the why and consulting with Greg Creson, we concluded that bicarbonates are tying up the calcium. This water is surface water typically considered high quality rainwater, but the high level of bicarbonates offsets the nutrients and calcium in the soil. The plants cannot get enough calcium. On a regular soil sample, ammonium acetate is the normal extraction method; with that, both samples above on the left show a calcium level in the range of 2900, which would be plenty of calcium. When we look at the H3A calcium, which is plant available calcium, it is at 433 and 337. The target for this is 600, so it's quite low. Learn more about how to address this issue in this video by Greg Creson. This is something we have to address; we cannot ignore what water is doing to our soil.  

Manure Separation for Irrigation & Fertilizer 

 



Over the last 4-5 years, NutraDrip has installed sub surface drip irrigation (SDI-E) for a number of producers that have livestock, including hog and dairy producers. The first option we worked on was putting a specialized screen in a hog lagoon and taking water off the top to send through the sub surface drip system. That option has been working well; over the past four years we have pumped over one million gallons of manure effluent. The next step was to get into deep pit barns with hog or dairy manure that is 8-10% solids. This has been a lot more challenging with two step separation. The current process we are working with is using a horizontal screw press as step one to take out the bigger particles. The second step is to send it through a microfilter. This is a piece of equipment we found in Italy.  

 

 



The microfilter has a drum on the inside that spins and throws the manure liquid through this screen. The product that flows through is clean enough to go through an SDI-E drip system. We did a couple hundred thousand gallons of hog manure and dairy manure. On the dairy manure we ran around 120,000 gallons of effluent through a drip system and never flushed our drip system filters once. When it comes out of here it’s very clean.  

 



 

It is still manure, and the liquid has all the nitrate, potassium and micronutrients in it. There is about 30% of the phosphorus in the dry solids that are separated out. There is a lot of interest in manure separation in the livestock industry. If the manure can be injected underground during the crop growing season with no smell or hauling, it will be a huge win for everyone.  

 



 

What else could we do with the clean manure? One test we did this winter in the greenhouse was using dairy manure that we separated and simulated an in furrow treatment of manure versus no starter at all. There was a three day emergence difference from the manure vs. No started. We did 5, 10 and 15 gallon an acre rate versus nothing. A second test was done where we added some biologicals and humates that were synergistic, and that gave us an even better response. Dairy farmers are always trying to figure out ways to get rid of their manure; it is considered a liability. Kurt states “To me, it has value, and I’m always trying to figure out how do we get these farmers that don’t have manure tied up with the guys that have excess. How do we add value and use manure in some places we normally don’t?”

 

Deep Pit Aeration 

Another area where another type of drip tape can be useful is for aerating deep pit livestock barns. Over the last year and a half, we have been working with a Hutterite colony in South Dakota; they were looking at a system to aerate the manure for a new hog barn with an eight-foot pit.  

  




After some research, we found a drip line that would allow air to be pumped through it, was durable, and has a check valve that will not let liquid manure go back into the emitters. This line was attached to the floor of the pit every 5 feet. This is a 10,000 head finishing barn. There are 17 different air zones, and every 3 hours, the zones alternately run for 60 seconds and bubble air through the manure. That lowers the ammonium in the barn by approximately 50%. The burning ammonia smell in your nose is almost nonexistent when walking through this newly installed deep pit aeration barn. There are higher nitrogen values in the manure because the ammonia that gases off is nitrogen leaving your barn, allowing for better animal health. There is a direct correlation to less ammonia and higher nitrogen in the manure, plus other benefits, one of which is that a barn with pit aeration will have manure that is much easier to separate. This will hopefully be a research project in 2024.  

 

Green Lightning produces Nitrogen (N) 

Finally is Green Lightning. For those of you who have not heard of this technology, it is a machine that puts nitrogen into water. Many people will say that after a thunderstorm, plants will green up; the theory is that there is some sort of nitrogen credit that happens with rain and lightning. The Green Lightning machine takes nitrogen from the air (which is 80% nitrogen and 19% oxygen) and concentrates that in the water.   

 



There have been two yield tests done with Green Lightning. This is very new technology, so that is all we have so far. Jason Webster at the PTI (Precision Technology Institute) farm in Illinois was given a green lightning machine last year to test, and this is his data. On the left, 32% at 180 pounds an acre yielded 267 bushels per acre of corn. This is all dry land. His control with no nitrogen yielded 170 bushels per acre; we can see adding 32% nitrogen added 98 bushels per acre, so a significant difference. If we look at where he applied 88 gallons of sidedress green lightning with 15 gallons of foliar green lightning, he’s up to 281 bushels an acre. This data shows that using green lightning increased yield by 14 bushels per acre compared to 32% nitrogen. This data looks very compelling.  

 



The next set of data we have is on potatoes in Washington. This was paid research. Potatoes use between 300-400 pounds of nitrogen per year. No nitrogen fertilizer yielded 12 tons an acre. 300 pounds of 28% yielded 25.8 tons per acre and 160 gallons of green lightning yielded 28 tons per acre.  

 



 

The green lightning machine is simple. This is a small machine; the ones that are commercially available have six of these ‘heads’ tied together. It has a footprint of about four feet by four feet. You feed water into one side of the machine, it goes through the device and comes out the bottom.  

 

Green lightning water presents a few challenges. The first is that if sent to a lab, they will say it is nothing but water. They cannot detect anything. We have some dip strips for nitrate testing, and if you dip into the green lightning water it will turn colors indicating there are nitrates in it; however, the lab will say there is not. The cost to generate this nitrogen is somewhere around $2 per acre. The farmer will own the machine and generate their own nitrogen. If this works, it will change the nitrogen industry. We have done some testing in house, but unfortunately the crops froze in the greenhouse during the January freezing event so the tests were incomplete. What we had seen so far was inconclusive. 

 

As a reminder, this is very new technology. They are just getting production started and learning the different challenges with this. Water quality has a big impact on how well this machine will run, so poor quality water will need to be softened and monitored closely to ensure the machine runs well. As of right now, this isn’t a set and forget type situation. In the future, it may be. NutraDrip is currently a dealer for Green Lightning.

 

A few other considerations: there is no salt in the water, so it will freeze. Foliar application is the recommended type of application. Obviously, we would like to try it through drip irrigation and we hope to experiment with that soon. A large unit is predicted to produce 150 gallons of nitrogen infused water per day. The rate per acre is going to be somewhere between 75-150 gallons per acre. Nitrogen equivalent in a gallon of green lightning liquid would be 2 pounds per gallon.  If you wanted to put out 200 pounds of nitrogen, you would use 100 gallons of liquid. The company says that this can be stored for 3 years without loss of nitrogen, but there are some conflicts about storage in a black vs. clear tank in the sun.  

 

This technology is new, and we are learning alongside growers how to best apply these to farming practices for most efficient and effective use. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, contact us at jason.maschhoff@nutradrip.com regarding green lightning or kurt@nutradrip.com about any of the other technology .  

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