The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to forecast an increase in dry edible bean acreage by as much as 35 percent over last year's 1.43 million acres. However, Magic Valley (Idaho) growers are still concerned about the water situation they could be facing them this summer. New technology may be able to help growers get the most out of every irrigation cycle.
At the 2002 Southern Idaho Bean School and Trade Show, Amy Wagner of Western Farm Service introduced a device called a Capacitance Probe (C-probe), which is a precise water sensor. The C-probe is a cable-free device that is roughly 6 feet tall. When inserted into the ground, it can monitor the amount of water in the soil at different points, allowing farmers to schedule each irrigation more accurately.
The C-probe is placed between the edge of the bed and the furrow. The information it gathers is transmitted to a command center and can be relayed via the Internet to the producer in as little as 15 minutes.
Such technology is valuable for bean growers who need a careful balance between too little and too much water. Unfortunately, it is still quite expensive. According to Justin Tolley of Western Farm Service in Buhl, the C-probe can cost as much as $2,000 to $3,000 per year -- a cost that can be spread out if a grower has more than a 160-acre plot. Most bean fields in the Magic Valley are not that big. Tolley said the device has not yet been used in bean fields in Twin Falls County but mainly in Burley because it is not yet cost effective.
Tolley expects that the C-probe will be more affordable in the future. Last year was the first year that it was used in Idaho, so it is still quite new. As with all technology, its price is likely to decrease and become more accessible to the average farmer.