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Maximizing Farm Potential: A Guide to Irrigation, Fertigation, and N-Time

Irrigation, fertigation, and integrated management systems offer both a diverse toolkit for farm management—and many opportunities for optimization. 


While you know irrigation as the foundation for water management, more synergy (and better operations) can unfold when it collaborates with fertigation. Fertigation is the innovative practice that efficiently applies fertilizer to crops, through an existing irrigation system. 


To take this synergy a step further, tools like N-Time, a nutrient management software, can optimize specific elements, like nitrogen applications. Through application scheduling recommendations, it can help farmers apply less nitrogen, save money, and even enjoy better land stewardship


But this holistic approach can also enhance your overall farm management. With its year-round functionality and long-term ROI, a fertigation system — especially when optimized with management software tools — can be a critical part of a farm’s infrastructure. And that infrastructure can help drive efficiency, improve resource utilization, optimize yields, and improve crop and soil quality. 


For farmers already equipped with irrigation systems, incorporating fertigation is a logical, progressive step to more strategic farm management. 


For those without established irrigation systems, investing in fertigation essentially means investing in an irrigation system first. Integrating fertigation transforms the irrigation system into a more versatile tool than just water management. 


This important investment can serve as the catalyst for more robust technological infrastructure—with far-reaching implications. By adopting an integrated approach that incorporates irrigation and fertigation, farmers not only optimize their nutrient application efficiency, but can also unlock possibilities for more efficient operations.


Beyond Applications: Fertigation as Infrastructure


Here are a few operational benefits — beyond just nutrient application efficiency — a farmer can gain with a fertigation system:


Year-round Functionality:

Fertigation systems can operate seamlessly throughout the entire growing season — positioning it as a foundational, continuous element within a farm’s infrastructure. This stands in stark contrast to other agricultural practices that only operate seasonally. 


Unlike other equipment pieces, like tractors, that are sporadically operational, pivot/irrigation systems stand resilient in the field every day of the year. This difference underscores the significance of investing in the irrigation platform, emphasizing a long-term return on investment.


Long-term Return on Investment:

A strategic investment in fertigation extends beyond the immediate benefits of water and nutrient application efficiency. By combining water and nutrient application into a single investment, it becomes a cost-effective solution to sustain farm productivity. The ability to apply chemicals through the irrigation system not only saves on custom application costs but also eliminates the need to purchase a separate sprayer. When integrated with a system like N-Time, which demonstrates $25/ac improvements in profitability year over year, these savings quickly translate into recovering your investment and generating additional returns over a short time period. With year-round uptime and versatility, irrigation and fertigation infrastructure offer continuous ROI over the long term.


Potential to Address Other Input Needs:

Fertigation isn’t only useful for applying nitrogen. It can also be used for applying critical high-mobility macro- and micro-nutrients like sulfur, potassium, and boron to name a few. Fertigation (which applies fertilizer) is closely aligned with chemigation—which applies targeted doses of other chemicals, like pesticide or herbicides. This infrastructure plays a pivotal role in an integrated weed, pest, and disease management strategy. When farmers can address these challenges, they enjoy sustained productivity and long-term success.


Geographic Versatility:

Investing into a comprehensive irrigation system is naturally important in water-scarce regions. A pressurized, overhead irrigation system requires upfront investment, but can end up being a cost-effective, versatile option.


However, irrigation infrastructure isn't only advantageous in dry regions; it can also bring significant benefits to areas that experience intermittent drought, such as South Georgia, North Florida, and Southeast Alabama – currently the fastest-growing irrigated regions in the country, closely followed by North Indiana and Southwest Michigan. This growth is attributed to the prevalence of dry weather and critical crop growth stages in these areas.


Studies at Auburn University demonstrate that even in regions with over 54 inches of annual precipitation, there are notable profit increases when irrigation is available. In addition, regions that may not necessarily require supplemental water still benefit from supplemental nitrogen for their crops. In such cases, an irrigation system is a versatile tool for fertigation or chemigation, enhancing nutrient delivery and promoting better crop yields.


Automation:

One of the most compelling aspects of fertigation is its remote operational capabilities. With no need for an on-site operator, it can be seamlessly managed from a distance, especially when monitored through IoT capabilities. This flexibility allows it to run at any time. By installing a pump setup in each field, ensuring tanks are filled, and establishing remote control over irrigation and pumps, you can create and manage applications from anywhere with an internet connection. Whether you find yourself adjusting settings from the comfort of your bed due to an unexpected storm in the middle of the night, or you're on a beach celebrating your anniversary with your spouse, or even attending your kid's sporting event 50 miles away, the versatility of remote operation adds a layer of convenience to your agricultural practices.


A Measurement and Field Intelligence Device:

An irrigation pivot doesn’t have to merely be an application machine. It can also offer measurement and field intelligence/triage capabilities. The pivot can provide valuable data — especially when working in tandem with software like N-Time, which can turn that data into actionable insights for informed decision-making. 


N-Time Features For Farm Management:

N-Time offers several advantages to revolutionize agricultural practices:


1. Precision Nitrogen Application for More Efficiency and Adaptability: The N-Time system offers real-time monitoring by collecting data from fields daily. From that real-time data, N-Time offers valuable, site-specific insights, like suggested timing and rate of nitrogen applications. These suggestions are particularly essential for uniform fields, but are useful on both uniform and variable fields to help ensure optimal nutrient delivery. 


2. Seamless Integration with Existing Systems (e.g., John Deere): N-Time is not an isolated solution—but rather a collaborative force that seamlessly integrates with existing agricultural systems, including popular platforms used with John Deere equipment. Thanks to these integrations, N-Time offers a unified platform for data storage and streamlines operations.


The Bottom Line:

Fusing irrigation, fertigation, and advanced tools like N-Time can be a game-changer for efficient, more intelligent farm management. With year-round functionality, long-term ROI, and tools to help you optimize water and nutrient delivery, these systems — especially when working together — can revolutionize your farm management. 


Investing into irrigation, fertigation, and tools to maximize both is not just an investment into more efficiency. It’s an investment into long-term agriculture resilience and prosperity.


Reach out to our team at Sentinel if you have any questions about setting up fertigation infrastructure at your operation.


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