May 17, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

With the threat of a dry growing season looming and a focus on water awareness in May, Kentucky farmers are seeking ways to combat a drought before it begins.

In some areas, ponds and streams have not fully recovered from the drought of 1999 and producers are facing decisions of how to best use limited water resources.

Bob Pearce, an agronomist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has a few suggestions to help farmers manage their water resources before they are in jeopardy.

"Avoid unnecessary tillage," Pearce said. "Some believe that cultivation during a dry spell helps crop growth by ‘bringing the moisture up.' Cultivation does bring the moisture up where it will be lost by evaporation and will not be available to the plant. Cultivation close to the plant can also prune off roots that the plant has sent out in search of water."

So basically, if you don't have a weed problem, Pearce suggests not cultivating during dry weather to help conserve the stored soil moisture. Irrigating too early is another concern, especially for tobacco since it actually benefits from a dry start. Too much water early in a growing season can stunt tobacco root growth and make the plant more vulnerable to a late-season drought.

"The greatest benefit from irrigation on tobacco comes when water is applied around topping time," Pearce said. "Although, under severely dry conditions, irrigation earlier in the season may be needed just to keep the crop growing."

If producers do need to irrigate, it's best to be patient and not get into a hurry. Pearce said enough water should be applied to wet the soil at least two-to-three inches deep. Infrequent, deep irrigation is more efficient than frequent, shallow irrigation. Keep in mind how fast the soil is capable of absorbing water because an irrigation system that can deliver two inches of water per hour isn't efficient for soil that can only absorb one inch per hour. Applying water faster than the soil can absorb it can lead to run-off and erosion of the soil.

"Also, consider the type of irrigation system," Pearce added. "Big guns are convenient, but they may use water less efficiently than smaller sprayers. Drip irrigation systems are typically more efficient than overhead systems."

By planning ahead now, farmers will be able to stretch limited water resources and still produce a high-quality crop.


Bob Pearce 859-257-5110