Production agriculture greatly depends on adequate rainfall for crop quality and yields. Farm operators using management intensive rotational grazing in their dairy and livestock operations try to maximize pasture use since pasture usually provides their most economical feed. Yet pasture is often perceived as being a low value crop that couldn’t justify the cost of irrigation. However, the fact that many pastures are dominated by grasses that are not drought tolerant along with a substantial increase in many agricultural commodity and input prices since 2006 has increased curiosity about the economic feasibility of irrigating pasture in Wisconsin.
A research project was conducted from 2009 to 2011 to determine the economic return of irrigating pasture, supported by a Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) grant. The grant paid for monitoring, testing and for two 12-pod K-line irrigation lines for installation on a cooperating grazing dairy farm that invested in the rest of the irrigation system.
Quantity and quality of pasture yield plus rainfall was measured from irrigated and non-irrigated pasture, side by side on the same soil type, on the cooperating farm for three growing seasons, including one that was extremely dry.
The collected data was carefully analyzed and the results were described to help farmers understand the circumstances required to make pasture irrigation economically feasible. The results should be applicable to most areas in the northeast quarter of the country and likely beyond.