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Irrigation at forefront at Husker Harvest Days

Katlin Luebbe Jason Luebbe  looking over the irrigation system
CHANGING TIMES: Jason Luebbe (shown) and his father, Roger, have been watching over the Husker Harvest Days show site irrigation systems for the past 37 years. They have seen technology change and have adapted to keep the show site current and profitable.
The show has embraced the changing times as irrigation tech has improved.

The flyer for that first Husker Harvest Days in 1978 dubbed it “The World’s Fair of Irrigated Agriculture.”

The show touted numerous types of irrigation delivery systems, including “the latest models of center-pivot systems, travelers, volume guns, solid sets, roll systems, gated pipe and reuse systems, there for inspection by present and prospective irrigators.”

Today, Husker Harvest Days remains the “World’s Largest Totally Irrigated Working Farm Show.” That title might be a mouthful to say, but when you attend HHD, you understand why it rings true.

Nebraska is the center of irrigated agriculture, with more irrigated acres than any other state. But the state ranks nationally near the top on water-use efficiency and conservation of groundwater resources.

The show site is located on land that was originally the U.S. Army Cornhusker Ammunition Plant, previously leased to a local cattle producer. Local farmers brought their tractors and implements to the site in the fall of 1977, to prepare the fields for the first HHD in October 1978. In those first years, much of the corn harvest demonstration fields were watered through gravity-flow.

Today, the gigantic 1,000-acre show site is a working farm, with center-pivot sprinklers from the four main manufacturers — Lindsay, Reinke, T-L and Valley — in the fields. Also, subsurface drip irrigation, installed by Western Irrigation of Garden City, Kan., in 2013, waters a small portion of the fields. This SDI system replaced a hose-drag, lateral-move sprinkler that had been watering crops at HHD for years.

For the past 37 years, Roger Luebbe has been the farm manager at HHD, and he has seen it all in irrigation technology. Roger and his son, Jason, manage the show site and demonstration fields throughout the year, including the irrigation.

“Before the pivot-corner system was perfected, lateral irrigation systems were very popular,” Roger says. “You could irrigate a square field with little dryland areas. There were six of those systems at HHD in 1986. Two of those were an open ditch with a diesel motor and pump that traveled with the system to provide the water,” he recalls. “These systems were very labor-intensive. Now, the new GPS-guided lateral systems are very easy to run and work very efficiently.”

Roger says the show had two gated-pipe gravity irrigated fields, with reuse pits at the end of the fields, which at the time, was the way to conserve water. “There were also two 40-acre pivot systems and one 135-acre pivot,” he says.

Pivots and SDI

The 1992 show program gave a snapshot of the irrigation systems offered that year:

  • one Lindsay pivot and two lateral move systems
  • one Valley pivot and one lateral move
  • one Lockwood pivot
  • one T-L lateral move system

While this season has offered optimal rain on show fields, the surrounding area around Grand Island has been dry, with pivots in full action through most of the growing season. That irrigation water is what keeps crops going in Nebraska and the western Corn Belt states.

The show has embraced the changing times as irrigation tech improved. The show continues to live up to its first slogan, “The World’s Fair of Irrigated Agriculture.” Stop by the Nebraska Farmer Hospitality Tent to see the original poster.

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