Del Voight - Penn State Extension
After discussing some options with the drought with some local producers. A few asked about the economics of irrigating. I found a useful factsheet Economics of Field Crops NCSU that appeared in the e Extension web service. What I found was that there are tremendous start up fees for a typical pivot system. At the time of this factsheets writing (2007) a typical system for 31 acres was about $80000-$100,000 the costs are much lower for the 80 acre system versus the 31 acre system. The per acre costs at that time was about 400 dollar per acre to pay for the system amortized over 10 years plus the operating of the equipment. Basically after 10 years the per acre rate would drop to a maintenace fees plus the operating fees depending on how much a producer uses the system.
At todays prices it would take about 50bu/acre of corn increase to pay for the additional cost on 31 acres. On our soil types in the north it would be entirely possible to increase yields by a minimum of 50 bu/acre under irrigation to pay for the system. What we do not have is some comparison data for the Lebanon area to come up with a real return by irrigation. Some farms situated near large streams and rivers will have varying economics versus a farm that would need to drill wells and draw water from a well and the additional costs for that process.
Be sure to read the publication in its entirety and really think and work this out before laying out the capital to begin the process. There are also other types of irrigation. I have seen drip line laid in fields in New Mexico with a deep shank the tubes were placed a foot deep and trickle water out very slowly. I have also seen water pumped almost a mile inland in Oklahoma then diverted through canals into hilled soybeans. The overhead nozzle method also is another system to which to compare. If you take the time to read this publication you will find that this is not a simple answer there are many facets to this decision and I do not feel that anyone can recommend irrigation unless a thorough review of each farm is taken and economics worked out.