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Irrigating dry edible beans with limited supply of water
Posted May 21, 2013
Despite recent precipitation, dry bean growers in western Nebraska could still face limited supplies of irrigation water in 2013, whether their water supply is surface water or groundwater.
Research performed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center shows that yield loss caused by water stress varies, depending on which growth stage or stages the bean plant is in when water is limited.
The general recommendation is to make sure that the bean crop gets adequate water in the first two growth stages, the vegetative and flowering phases, and if it’s necessary to cut back on irrigation, try to do so later in the season, during pod filling.
Western Nebraska periodically experiences drought, when total surface water available for irrigation is reduced and producers can only look at precipitation forecasts to see when reservoirs might return to adequate levels and water will be available. For groundwater users, drought results in increased pumping to make up for decreased rainfall which subsequently increases the rate of groundwater decline.
The result is that there is a need to conserve water not just during drought periods, but any time that we are irrigating. In Nebraska the need to use water efficiently has resulted in the adoption of irrigation pumping restrictions as one of the prime methods to save water.
Dean Yonts, the longtime irrigation specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center who passed away in 2012, conducted a research project for several years in an effort to develop season-long deficit irrigation strategies for dry bean production. Yonts was assisted by research technician Dave Reichert.
A small plot irrigation system was used to compare nine irrigation treatments at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Treatments were designed to compare different water application amounts with full irrigation, and included:
- 100 percent of full irrigation
- 75 percent of full irrigation
- 50 percent of full irrigation
- 25 percent of full irrigation
- 100 percent of full irrigation during vegetation and flowering, then 0 percent through pod fill
- 50 percent of full irrigation during vegetation, and flowering, then 100 percent through pod fill
- 100 percent of full irrigation during vegetation then 50 percent through flowering and pod fill
- 50 percent of full irrigation during vegetation, 100 percent during flowering, and 50 percent through pod fill
- 0 percent of full irrigation (no irrigation season long)
Observations from this three-year study show that highest yields were attained when the bean crop had full irrigation. But when it was necessary to reduce irrigation, the most yield loss occurs when beans are water-stressed during the vegetative and flowering stages. Even though water stress is detrimental after flowering, it is not as severe on yield as when plants are stressed early.
For example, in 2012, the beans that received 50 percent of full irrigation over an entire season experienced a 25 percent yield reduction. Beans that were stressed only during pod fill experienced a 20 percent yield reduction. Similar results were experienced in 2010 and 2011.
If water supplies are limited, acceptable bean yields can still be achieved by supplying sufficient irrigation through the flowering period and then allowing water stress during the pod fill period.