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Why Chemigation, and Why Now?

When discussing the topic of chemigation, it isn’t accurate to say that this is a practice whose time has come. After all, chemigation has been used in many farming operations, across the country and internationally, with great success since the 1980s.

What can be said, according to one industry expert, is that chemigation is poised to make a major leap forward—both in terms of practicality and, consequently, more widespread adoption.

“I’m comfortable making that claim, because there are several trends currently coming together to impact agriculture,” says Erik Tribelhorn, CEO of Agri-Inject, a Colorado-based manufacturer of chemical injection and control equipment for irrigation systems.

Powerful trends 
The first, states Tribelhorn, is a growing worldwide concern about diminishing reserves of fresh water for agriculture and corresponding efforts to use water resources wisely. “Ask producers in Texas and the southern Plains about their greatest concerns and the depletion of groundwater for irrigation will be near the top of every list,” he notes.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this situation has driven the development of more water-efficient irrigation practices and production methods. In recent years, that process has been accelerated by another trend—the rise of technology and precision agriculture. 

For example, soil moisture sensors help inform the farmer when, where and how much irrigation is needed. Advanced, variable-rate pivot control systems and sprinklers allow irrigation water application to be adjusted on the fly based on an array of variables. 

What does all of this mean for chemigation? That technology hasn’t stood still, either. “We have systems now that can inject fertilizers and crop protection chemicals into the pivot systems with the same variable-rate precision that controls water flow,” Tribelhorn explains. “That means optimum application timing, less waste and improved nutrient usage and crop protection efficiency.”

All of that figures into the most compelling reason for chemigation’s bright future—simple economics.

Efficiency wins 
“By taking advantage of the advancements in irrigation equipment and technology, chemigation and fertigation have achieved new levels of efficiency,” Tribelhorn says. “In today’s low-price, tight-margin environment, cost-effective productivity wins the day.”

According to Tribelhorn, the economic advantages of today’s chemigation systems include:
• Make use of existing equipment to apply fertilizer and crop protection products
• Can save $4-10 per acre on application costs 
• Lend themselves to precision application, which increases input utilization efficiency, reduces waste and boosts yields
• Provide uniform coverage, with no skipped rows or hot spots

How economically viable are chemigation and fertigation? “We worked with a farmer who installed five center pivots, a pond, a pumping station and all the requisite precision control equipment with the sole intent of applying late-season nitrogen in his corn,” Tribelhorn relates. “The numbers work.”

Future proofing 
There is one final trend that strongly favors fertigation/chemigation systems. Environmental stewardship practices that are strongly recommended now will be mandated in the near future. Applying fertilizers and crop protection products in ways that maximize crop uptake and minimize drift, leaching and volatilization put producers ahead of the regulatory curve.

So, if you’ve considered chemigation and/or fertigation before and decided not to pull the trigger, a lot has changed. It’s time to take another look.