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Integration in Action – Big Guns or Boom Carts?

Posted by | May 5, 2010

Big guns or boom carts? That is the choice agricultural producers in northwestern Washington were facing in deciding how to provide supplemental irrigation water to certain crops.

Big guns-on-reel irrigation systems are effective at supplying water to the crop, but aren’t very efficient. Because high pressures are used to propel the water long distances, it is highly vulnerable to wind drift and evaporation. In addition, the big -gun systems don’t distribute water uniformly.

Don McMoran, agricultural extension educator in Skagit County, listened to growers in his county and started looking for solutions.

Working with Extension irrigation specialist Troy Peters, he took the lead in designing and implementing a project to test which irrigation method provided the best coverage most economically. Using Skagit Valley potato fields, they evaluated two big-gun systems and two boom systems, measuring a variety of factors including how much water leaving the big-gun systems actually made it to the soil. Big-gun systems consist of a large water gun mounted on a cart that is reeled through a field; a boom system is similar but the “booms”, or supported pipes, are cantilevered over both sides of the cart and micro sprinklers are spaced along the length of the pipe to evenly distribute water over the soil.

McMoran and Peters’ research results were dramatic. They found that a boom system delivers more than 40 percent more usable irrigation water to the soil than a big gun. They also showed that the boom systems applied water in a more uniform way, which results in improved crop yields and quality for the growers.  They were also able to show that growers operating with diesel pumps could pay for the upgrade to a boom in just a few years with energy savings alone. McMoran and Peters showed that farmers have the potential to save water, save energy, and make more money by converting from big guns to boom systems.

We are featuring both faculty members as the second in our series celebrating excellence in Extension-CAHNRS integration. Their work epitomizes integration in several important ways.

First, it shows that integration can happen regardless of where the individual faculty members are located. McMoran is in Skagit County; Peters is housed at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser. And, yet, that distance did nothing to hamper their collaboration.

This project also emphasizes that departmental faculty based at the R&E centers have statewide, not just regional, responsibilities.

Finally, this work demonstrates the wider application of research. What McMoran and Peters accomplished in northwestern Washington adds to the irrigation knowledge base for the entire state, and actually, beyond state borders.