Dry weather, bad for farmers, good for drought research - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Dry weather, bad for farmers, good for drought research

July 14, 2006

Camilla-  A lack of rain is hurting Georgia farmers, but its given irrigation researchers a better understanding of when water may be needed.  Researchers are looking at how technology and dry conditions this year may help future crops. 

Since 2003, researchers at the University of Georgia's C.M. Stripling Research Park in Camilla have been using aerial equipment to photograph fields. This years photos will go a long way to helping farmers conserve water and produce better crops, year after year.

Little rain and wilting cotton plants make this an important year for drought research. The Cotton commission has been watching research closely since 2000. Aerial pictures, especially this year have proved useful.

"Some of these areas, you'll probably notice the cotton's not growing as well," said Glen Ritchie, UGA Research Coordinator.

It's given researchers a better idea of when a plant needs water.

"We can produce good yields without using quite as much water, the challenge is you have to manage your crop a lot more closely," said Ritchie.

Aerial pictures of this cotton field from this blimp and model airplane show researchers immediate problems with crops. Ritchie said, 

"You can also pick out a little bit of a change in color, as opposed to these areas where it's growing a little bit better, those are areas that it's drought stressed."

By basing irrigation off of the plant signals rather than off of some set irrigation schedule researchers have found success.

"We've saved anywhere from one to two inches of irrigation water, which doesn't sound like much, but when it comes down to it that comes out to almost 30 thousand gallons of water per acre," said Ritchie.

And by pushing the plant's limits a little farther, farmers may still be able to get top yields, but be able to save a lot of water giving them more flexibility and a more productive crop.

"You'll be able to be more efficient on a year to year basis and eventually be able to be successful in using as little water as possible while still maintaining a top yield," said Ritchie. 

While most of the research has been done on cotton fields, the information also translates to other crops including corn, wheat, and peanuts.  So far this month on average south Georgia crops have received nearly six inches of natural rain.

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