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3 level-headed strategies for successful water management

November 14, 2022

Too much or not enough. When it comes to water, those tend to be the primary motivations for implementing smarter management strategies.

It’s important, though, to prioritize long-term sustainability over a short-term fix and find the right solutions for your operation. Water is an increasingly valuable resource, and regardless of availability, managing it properly today will lead to recurring benefits.

With extreme weather patterns becoming more common and less predictable, industries can proactively level the playing field – literally – to capitalize and customize water management solutions. 

Trimble experts offer 3 tips for planning and implementing successful, sustainable water management practices. 

Take a Holistic Approach 

While technology allows farmers and contractors to be more specialized than ever with their water management practices, broader success requires a holistic approach versus a singular solution. 

“We’ve seen too many people skip steps or miss them,” says Josh Shuler, Trimble’s Water Management Product Team Manager. “Having a vision that gets you from year one to year 10 is important to fully realize the ROI of your investment.” 

He shares the example of a farmer in northeast Missouri who was looking to expand. With limited and expensive land available nearby, the farmer compared the cost of adding acreage to reinvesting in his current operation with incremental water management improvements to improve crop production. 

After crunching the numbers on a comprehensive long-term plan, the farmer committed to strategic land forming to redirect surface water, adding waterways and terraces in areas. He also installed a subsurface controlled drainage system to raise or lower subsurface water table levels. 

Part of taking a holistic approach to water management is increasing accuracy in order to ensure each step is measured and managed effectively. Precision technology – such as Trimble’s WM-Drain farm drainage solution paired with WM-Subsurface software – streamlines the survey, analysis, design, installation and verification steps of surface and subsurface drainage projects. 

“The farmer in Missouri made a significant investment in a very closed-loop system (where nearly all precipitation and subsurface ground water was captured to be used for subsurface irrigation), but it resulted in a 5-7 year payoff, which was a much quicker ROI than purchasing new land,” Shuler says. “Because the farmer was able to step back and take a holistic approach, he could analyze and understand the long-term value.”

Manage Variability to Meet Expectations 

Effective water management isn’t uniform across topography, climate, geography or soil conditions. It’s important to set realistic expectations based on your commitment to managing variables, says Scott Azbell, Trimble Water Management Sales and Strategy Manager.

When working with a limited budget, it’s always better to complete 100% of your water management plan in the area that needs the most focus, versus only partially completing water activities across the entire field. That way you can fully measure the benefits of the system and save for future implementations, rather than being disappointed by limited results.

“I had a farmer who was seeing 75-150 bushel-per-acre variability with corn yields, so he installed pattern tile for controlled drainage,” Azbell says. “By making that investment across the entire field, he now sees a consistent field average of 165 bushels per acre. He focused on one area and committed to a solution that allowed him to expand controlled drainage to improve other parts of the farm.”

Don’t Simply Default to Tradition 

With increasing emphasis on sustainability, the mindset of continuing a management practice purely out of tradition (such always defaulting to moving dirt or installing subsurface drainage tile, depending on where you are) may be one worth reconsidering. After all, soil structure and health are critical pieces of the water management puzzle that we have to keep in mind.

Everyone is looking to do more with less these days and doing it the same way you’ve always done it isn’t efficient, notes Shuler. Farmers and contractors willing to implement holistic water management practices (both traditional and non-traditional) will create more flexibility in the future.

But figuring out a starting point for change can sometimes be the hardest part of the process. Solutions like Trimble’s WM-Survey II app can provide an easy entry point into water management, allowing users to create basic field surveys. The app also has options to automatically create terrace and waterway cross-section profile designs, as well as verifying tiling designs. 

“Effective water management takes a combination of things we’ve done in the past, new approaches and ways of thinking – and the payoff of that comprehensive approach comes in real time and financial savings,” Shuler says. “After all, if you can widen the window for spring planting or fall harvest another 3-4 days after a heavy rain, or if you can remove 50-75% of your year-over-year variability regardless of the weather patterns – that’s significant.”

Learn more about how Trimble’s suite of Water Management solutions can help meet your long-term goals.