Options for sharing irrigation equipment - Irrigation systems are very scale dependent. Sharing the irrigation expense by jointly investing with a neighbor often leads to a configuration which is better and is more cost effective. For more information on split irrigation cost between neighbors see irrigation fact sheet #10.
Map your irrigation ideas - Acquire an aerial map of all the land in question for your irrigation projects. Excellent maps and tools are available from Google maps and others or your local USDA Farm Service Agency paper map and a pencil/compass will work. Identify large spaces of land you have available that are adjacent to or may share water sources. Identify major excavation needs such as woodlot or fence line removal. Identify drainage ditch and wet areas that will require modifications for the system to cross.
Power sources - Identify available power sources – a three phase power line in close proximity (1/2 mile or less) to potential water source(s) is the cheapest. Liquid fuel storages located near wells and surface water pose potential environmental risks, along with higher equipment, maintenance and fuel cost, leaving engine power as a second choice for most situations.
Get multiple bids - Use irrigation professionals to your advantage. Take your best ideas to at least two irrigation sales/design people. Many will have access to excellent mapping and planning software tools, plus they will have far more experience than most producers in irrigation system design. Compare potential designs on a cost per irrigated acre basis (for an average years irrigation). This process will help equalize investment in equipment with energy cost and labor. Example work sheets are available under the irrigation cost section of this MSU Extension website.
Irrigation economics - Make sure irrigation will pay. Think in terms of increasing your average net income per acre after you have covered the additional irrigation related bills. To receive good outcomes, expect to provide good estimates of increased fixed and variable costs. Figuring this out in advance of the investment is detailed, but is well worth the time. An excellent tool to assist in evaluating the economic feasibility of a proposed project is the Capital Investment Model developed by MSU Educator Roger Betz.
Crop rotation and tillage preferences - Among the traditional crops, commercial corn and alfalfa have shown the greatest economic advantage to irrigation. Small grains and soybeans have offered some of the lowest returns from added investment in irrigation. Changes in crop rotations often result from adding irrigation. Although it is not always the case, a smaller proportion of irrigated fields are managed using no till systems then non-irrigated fields. Excessive corn residue produced on irrigated fields might be part of the reason.