North Plains GCD has just completed the fourth year of its award-winning Master Irrigator program. The 2019 class consisted of 22 producers from the eight-county service area, representing over 110,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land. After their graduation on April 10, 2019, the Master Irrigator family grew to nearly 100 strong, representing more than 20 percent of the district’s irrigated acres, and conserving and protecting one of the area’s most valuable resources.
Master Irrigator offers local growers a wealth of information to guide them toward increasing water efficiency and pumping less groundwater while maintaining or increasing their yields. Participants meet at the North Plains Water Conservation Center for four consecutive Wednesdays to receive 24 hours of intensive irrigation education from experts in agronomy and irrigation.
After a welcome from North Plains GCD General Manager, Steve Walthour, the first session of Master Irrigator’s 2019 class covered soil health, irrigation water quality, fertility management, plant stress, cover crops, and the economics of soil health and residue management. Each instructional day ends with a producer panel, where local farmers discuss their experience with some of the strategies addressed by the speakers. Two panelists, Ronald Meyer and Kelly Kettner, also brought along some visual aids to show the benefits of conservation tillage and proper soil health management.
Irrigation scheduling was the topic of the second session. Jourdan Bell, Pat Scarth, David Sloane, Scott Strawn, and Steve Amosson gave presentations on optimizing irrigation timing, and Keith Sides from the United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service told Master Irrigators how they can apply for the special pool of federal funding that is available to them from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.
Session three and four focused on systems, including center pivot management, variable rate irrigation, remote monitoring, and subsurface drip irrigation. Special topics were also explored – participants heard about remote sensing, profitability analysis, drones, and energy considerations such as variable frequency drives and genset. Master Irrigator graduates Justin Garrett, Braden Gibson, and Casey Kimbrell joined other area producers in the discussion panels for these sessions.
The most recent State Water Plan for Texas calls for irrigation conservation of 113,984 acre-feet in the district’s eight service counties in the 2020 planning decade. By learning about tools and technologies that save water, Master Irrigators are doing their part to conserve our most precious natural resource and maintain our way of life here in the northern Panhandle.