Farmers across the state aren’t getting much of a post-planting reprieve, as temperatures continue to heat up and rainfall continues to stay away lately across most of the Cornhusker state. As such, irrigation motors are firing up rapidly as producers fret about their emerging crops amidst the hot, dry conditions.

Peer pressure is most certainly a factor, it seems, when it comes to irrigation. Many producers convince themselves that their soil moisture is adequate for another day or two, but when the neighboring pivot fires up that evening, it can be difficult to not follow suit.

Many times, however, soil moisture conditions are adequate, and, increasingly, farmers across the state and nation are trading in guessing for certainty by utilizing the latest moisture monitoring technology, with significant cost-saving results.

A popular source for this innovation around Nebraska is through San Diego-based company AquaSpy, whose high-tech soil moisture probes deliver real-time data to producers, revealing the detailed moisture content and temperature of their fields at different depths and times of day. Farmers are then able to determine vital information about their crops, including how deep the roots have penetrated and how well the plants are utilizing the fertilizer at varying depths.

This probe-data is wirelessly sent in real-time to an easy-to-manage dashboard, which may then be accessed on any computer or mobile device, allowing users to monitor their fields at any time and place.

Armed with this detailed analysis, producers are able to actively manage their irrigation efforts based on hard data, not conjecture.

North-Central Nebraska farmer and AquaSpy user Tim Schmeeckle revealed that he ran his center-pivots three fewer times with AquaSpy than the year before. With the costs associated with pumping and labor to run each pivot estimated to be around $1,000, Schmeekle estimates a savings of $30,000 that year.

“It is kind of like a fuel gauge on your car,” he said. “We know how much moisture we started with. We know how much the roots are taking out of the ground, and we know how deep we are putting that water back in.”

The Nebraska Ag Water Management Network has estimated a water-savings of 2 inches per acre for those utilizing any soil moisture monitoring technology—a cost saving measure that adds up to $10-$30 per acre.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, moisture sensor technology not only reduces pumping costs, but may also improve crop growth and yield by helping farmers avoid the detrimental effects caused by overwatering upon soil conditions and nutrient leaching.

Producers who are ready to give such technology a try are encouraged to install their sensors early on in the season to ensure proper operation. Early installation helps minimize root damage, allows time for the sensors to acclimate to the soil moisture conditions, and ensures a better chance for proper soil contact.

Controlling input costs and keeping a tight rein on irrigation output has a significant effect on a producer’s bottom line—now more than ever. If you are considering utilizing moisture sensing data into your operation, please let us help you decide the best way to move forward with this exciting technology.

UFARM offers a full range of Nebraska land management services, including real estate sales, rural property appraisals, consultations and crop insurance. UFARM has operated in Nebraska since the early 1930’s. If you have questions about yields and productivity on your rented farmland, give the UFARM managers contact us today!

Sources consulted: Freeman, Mike. “Drought-Stricken Fields Get Boost From Technology.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. The San Diego Union Tribune. 17 Jul. 2014. Web. 13 Jun. 2017.  Nygren, Aaron. “Value of Using Sensors for Irrigation and Tips for Proper Installation.” Cropwatch. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 8 Jun. 2017. Web. 13 Jun. 2017.


Center PivotLandowners are always endeavoring to get the most from their farmland, and this is especially true when negotiating cash rental rates with potential tenants. While there are many factors in play when it comes to lease rates, one of the most significant is whether or not their parcel of land is under center pivot irrigation. As many savvy landowners readily discover, there is a strong correlation between higher cash rental rates and the presence of center pivot irrigated acres.
Cash rental rates have been steadily rising over the last several years, and demand remains high for quality rental acres. Trends over the last several years, when rainfall has been adequate or exceeded expectations, suggest that would-be tenants have been willing to pay a straight per-acre rate for both irrigated and dryland corners in their rental agreements, since the yield difference between the dryland corners and the irrigated acres have been smaller.
However, after 2012’s severe drought, tenants are becoming more interested in negotiating rental contracts with per-acre rates based on the irrigated circle and the dryland corners, this according to survey results conducted by the Ag Econ Department at the University of Nebraska. The survey looked at the five reporting Agricultural Statistical Districts in Nebraska and found that in all five, the cash rental rates were an average of $9-$33 per acre higher when rates were based only on the center-pivot irrigated acres, and not the whole parcel.
Specifically, in the Northeast Nebraska reporting district, the results of the survey found that the center pivot irrigated only price per acre average was $397, versus $379 for the center pivot whole parcel average, a difference of $18 per acre. The difference may also be attributed to high demand for acres to farm and high competition to win leases in this part of the state.
Indeed, it has been noted that it is cheaper to buy an acre of untillable grazing ground in northwest Nebraska than to rent an irrigated farm acre in the eastern portion of the state for one year. The same UNL survey cited the going rate for the highest quality irrigated rental acre was $439, versus $379 sale price for a grazing acre.
So, what does this mean for landowners? Obviously, it’s a great economic benefit to have center pivot capabilities on your farmground, as tenants are obviously willing to pay more for irrigated acres at this time. Landowners seeking to maximize their land asset should take advantage of the economic benefits that come with irrigation. If your ground is dryland, it’s a good idea to evaluate it and decide if the benefits that come along with adding a center pivot are worth the initial cost. The findings of this survey and trends over the years suggest that the higher cash rent premiums that accompany irrigated land are worth the efforts.
Are you striving to make the most of your farmland? Are you wondering whether you are negotiating appropriate rental rates? Give UFARM a call. We have the experience and expertise to help you make the most of your farming operation.
“Center Pivot Rental Rates With and Without Adjustments for Dryland Corners.” Cornhusker Economics. 31 Jul. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Sacramento RiverNebraska is known for its Cornhuskers, but perhaps a more likely mascot would be the Irrigators? According to the results of the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Nebraska is ranked first in the entire nation for total irrigated acres, even falling ahead of the state of California. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and while the newest 2012 numbers are yet to be released, other statistics corroborate this agriculture trend in irrigation.

Specifically, areas in the north and northeast portions of Nebraska have seen the most irrigated acres expansion, where fewer restrictions have been in place up until the last year or two. Antelope and Holt Counties are ranked one and two, respectively, in their expansion of irrigated acres since 2008. Nebraska’s irrigation expansion makes sense, since our state just happens to lie on top of one of the largest freshwater seas in the nation, the Ogallala Aquifer. Combined with higher commodity prices and land values, producers have sought to expand their crop ground.

Some, however, aren’t as optimistic when it comes to water management in our state. Drought concerns, especially after the 2012 growing season, coupled with the news that certain areas of the state are being classified as over appropriated when it comes to the water supply, are keeping area farmers keenly attuned to all things water-related. When an area is deemed over appropriated, it means that the water demands on the area aren’t sustainable with existing supply. This is when the state’s Natural Resource Districts put restrictions on new applications for irrigated acres, transfers, and supplemental irrigation wells, as the Lower Elkhorn NRD board voted to do in November. The board did provide one caveat: It will grant up to 10 acres per project for those who want to complete a full circle for a pivot, up to 400 acres total, this according to Farm Journal Editor Nate Birt, on

While we have a collective interest in maintaining good stewardship of our water resources, it’s also in our state’s economic interest to provide farmers the opportunity to make the most of their land, and the ability to irrigate helps not only them, but the Nebraska as a whole. A study by the Nebraska Farm Bureau found that irrigation helped both the state jobs outlook and the economy in 2012. More specifically, the study found that farmers’ ability to irrigate their crops contributed $11 billion to the economy that same year.

Regarding the important findings of the study, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson explained, “The major take away from the study is that water used for irrigation in agriculture plays a critical role in the state’s economy, whether it’s direct financial benefit or helping protect Nebraska jobs. Given that reality it’s critical we as a state continue to recognize its importance as we talk about future management of our state’s water resources and the role of irrigation in Nebraska agriculture.”

Potential limits on the amount of water producers are allowed to put onto the ground are putting pressure on farmers to become ever more efficient with their irrigation systems. Farmers are researching the best practices for irrigating their crops, whether it’s being smarter about when and how to apply water, to investing in the latest irrigation technology, such as soil moisture probes and variable rate pivots, to help them irrigate as efficiently as possible.

Meeting the needs of our own land and preserving our state’s natural resources is a delicate balancing act. Don’t go it alone—let UFARM help you make the best decisions for your land in light of changing demands.

Sources: (“Study Showed Irrigation Protected Jobs, Fueled Nebraska Economy in 2012.” Nebraska Farm Bureau. 23 Jul. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)

(Birt, Nate. “Nebraska Water Woes.” Farm Journal. 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)