Making the Most of It

Published online: Jul 08, 2021 Articles, Irrigation Agri-Inject
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This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Potato Grower Magazine as part of our celebration of Smart Irrigation Month.

Potatoes are extremely sensitive. Sensitive to over-watering. Sensitive to under-watering. Sensitive to over-fertilization. Sensitive to countless disease and pest pressures. Given this sensitivity, it is wise to implement best practices to optimize irrigation and chemigation applications. Whether you are new to chemigation or are a seasoned pro, there are opportunities to further utilize tools already in your irrigated field. There are several important considerations in optimizing your chemigation applications to save time, minimize resources, enhance plant health, and maximize profits. Reduced chemical costs, decreased application costs, more uniformly applied coverage, decreased environmental impact, and improved safety are just a few of the many benefits when improving chemigation practices.  

Chemigation and fertigation bring many opportunities to the operation. From applying pre-emergent chemicals for weed germination prevention to spoon-feeding fertilizer throughout the growing season, the potential for savings and in-field benefits are vast. Chemigation provides solutions to many of the problems frequently encountered in potato fields.  

Bugs, Fungus & Beyond 

The growing season always brings with it pest infestations, which can have detrimental effects on total yields. As soon as you begin to notice pests, the time bomb starts ticking. What do you do? What is your knee-jerk reaction? Is it to call your commercial applicator?  

Instead of outsourcing the chemical application, keeping that control within the farm saves time and money. This timely chemical application will minimize population outbreaks when days or even hours can be critical. When combating Mother Nature, implementing chemigation in your operation is one of the most effective ways to respond to those threats.  

Many potato growers rely on smaller chemigation units (20- to 30-gallon tanks) for the application of low-volume insecticides and fungicides, such as the Insectigator from Agri-Inject. The Insectigator offers stress relief to farmers in these situations, because they know they have an easy-to-operate tool at their disposal. It is also a wise investment; even the stingiest banker would approve. When comparing application costs versus commercial applicators, most chemigation units pay off in less than four applications. This does not include any potential yield loss incurred from waiting for the application. When pests like Colorado potato beetle are first seen in the field, many potato growers use products like the Insectigator to quickly make a chemigation pass and eliminate the threat. 

Chemigation provides numerous benefits to make it an obvious choice in irrigated potato fields. Whether dealing with fungi or insects, you can minimize compaction of a ground sprayer, decrease application costs of aerial application, and easily move equipment from field to field when needed.

John Scheuring, Senior Agronomist with CSS Farms, notes another advantage: “The benefit of chemigation is the instantaneous incorporation of whatever product we’re using,” he says. Timing is also critical in applying what you need at precisely the point in time it is needed.  

Insects that migrate from nearby fields are a specific area of concern. CSS Farms implements preventative applications by routinely applying a field edge pass by a ground sprayer. This year, however, they are changing up the routine.

“We’re running Boundary Riders on fields, which is something new for us,” Scheuring says. “We’re excited about how we’re going to be able to incorporate it into treating certain sections of fields instead of having to treat entire fields.”  

The Boundary Rider, introduced in the early 1990s, has been redesigned specifically for potato industry needs. Engineered to ride on a pivot’s next-to-last tower, it creates a boundary of control around the entire field, eliminating the threat of migrating insects without treating the entire field. Although Scheuring is using the Boundary Rider for the first time, he is already excited about the benefits.

“It is going to help us reduce the number of hours we are putting on sprayers,” he says, “along with the savings of the pivot doing the work instead of a person.”

CSS Farms uses Boundary Riders from Agri-Inject to create a protective boundary around its potato fields against migrating insect pests.

Consistency Wins 

Nutrient availability is another topic heavily connected to potato sensitivity. If the potato plant receives too much fertilizer at one time, this accelerated growth leaves growers with numerous problems. This is where fertigation plays a large role.  

Fertigation allows farmers to apply smaller doses of nutrients, whether macro or micro, throughout the growing season. The consistent application of nutrients maintains a consistent growth to develop the desired size and shape for the customer. Additionally, spoon-feeding nutrients keeps them readily available for uptake when the potato plant acquires them. In a world focused on consumer preferences, these things ensure both a farmer and customer are happy with the resulting crop. 

Reflex: For Proportion and Precision 

Knowing not every field and every situation is the same, there should be flexibility in the equipment you use. To assist with the needs of varied situations, Reflex technology was born.  

Reflex injection systems manage chemical or fertilizer output in proportion to the current water flow. This ensures the chemical application is consistently applied at the desired rate throughout the entire field. Corner pivots are the most common irrigation systems that need the use of injection proportional to water flow. When more acres are covered by the extended swing arm, more water flow is required to maintain consistent water output on all irrigated acres. The chemical application should also change accordingly to prevent over- or under-application of fertilizer or pesticide. This allows crop yields to stay consistent and chemicals to have greater efficacy. 

Variable rate irrigation and fertigation applications are also extremely compatible with Reflex. The proportional injection system can apply flat rate fertilizers during a variable rate irrigation pass. The Reflex system provides seamless variable rate fertigation to add precision to crop growth. A variety of Reflex packages exist, including the Reflex Connect which allows you to manage, monitor and control everything from the comfort of wherever you and your phone currently sit. This added peace of mind allows a grower to check on his or her chemical application without traveling to that specific field multiple times a day. Reflex helps growers deliver precise applications of fertilizers and chemicals through the irrigation system to every square foot of the field.  

Equipment Support: Service & Safety

Conducting routine preventive maintenance both in and out of the growing season enhances opportunities for success. In season, simple things like flushing the system to prevent buildup keep things flowing and performing at peak efficiency. Good manufacturers design the plumbing system to include a flush assembly for this specific purpose. 

In the offseason, providing proper maintenance to equipment helps it be most successful year after year. Change the oil. Clean out the product lines. Provide a once-over on the operational pieces of the equipment to evaluate the working condition for the next growing season. The equipment will thank you next time it’s used.  

The most important item to increase chemigation success is to follow safety protocols when using chemicals and equipment. Read the labels. Use proper personal protective equipment. And, frankly, be careful. The agricultural community cares about your safety. 

Lastly, call your local dealer or Agri-Inject directly with any and all questions regarding equipment or chemigation support. As Scheuring says, “When we need service or when we have questions, there’s always plenty of support. Agri-Inject’s customer service side of things—the salesmen—at least from my standpoint, has been really phenomenal.”  

As the years progress and things change, remember your pivot is a versatile tool in your irrigated field. One of the things the pivot can do is apply water. Why not double or triple its impact by using it as a chemical and fertilizer applicator? The ability to chemigate not only simplifies some managerial control of growth and countless pests; it also offers a pathway to becoming a smarter irrigator. Simply put, your irrigation system should do more than just irrigate.