Many producers are looking into investing in small-scale irrigation systems to help provide livestock with forage as drought predictions and dry conditions continue, says University of Missouri (MU) Extension ag economist Joe Horner.

“What makes irrigation attractive is that you can irrigate your way out of a drought without thinking ahead,” Horner says.

But it’s not for everyone, he cautions. “If you are lucky enough to be near a good volume of flowing water, there are some ways to get some pretty low-cost irrigation out of that. If you have to drill a well and pump water from a long distance, it is pretty hard to make the economics work.”

Producers who don’t have access to a creek, river or good-sized lake will probably find it’s cheaper to buy forage. But some may still want to explore irrigation.

“Feeding stored forage changes the feed quality,” he says. “It changes the labor workload. It changes the nutrient management system. So I think there are a lot of producers out there who are interested in putting in these small-scale systems if there is still a margin left, even if it isn’t necessarily the cheapest way of doing it.”

MU Extension has developed a downloadable calculator to help producers estimate the costs of putting in small irrigation systems. The calculator provides cost per dry ton and cost per pound of dry matter on a grazed basis. Under the Decision Tool heading, download the Economics of Small Scale Irrigation calculator.

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