Agricultural Irrigation System Design to Reduce Water Usage

 

In many locations around the world, the importance of irrigation in agriculture is difficult to overstate, since few regions are blessed with regular, reliable rainfall. In many cases, the limiting factor on productivity is the use of water in agriculture, which generally means the availability of water. Rainfall may be sporadic and fresh surface water is not always available. The supply of groundwater is also limited, whether in the case of fossil aquifers (which are gone forever once they’ve been expended) or groundwater that may take anywhere from months to years to recover if overused.

 

At the same time, most farms are run on a razor-thin margin. The challenge is, therefore, how can we conserve water without affecting production. Fortunately, the technology and best practices are available to do this.

 

Basic Steps

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Water conservation methods in agriculture should start with the soil: grading land for efficient water use, providing furrow dikes for rainwater management, and reduced (conservation) tillage to preserve soil structure and hence water retention. Careful grading using laser-equipped surveying equipment can reduce water consumption by a quarter, while still improving yields by 15%.[1] That being said, agricultural irrigation equipment tends to be a major investment, and it behooves us to look at ways to reduce water usage before we start ordering irrigation supplies online.

 

One component of good irrigation practice is accurate measurement of soil moisture levels and irrigation flow rates. Simply put, water conservation in agriculture relies on not turning the taps wide open while the soil around the roots is still moist, or right before a thunderstorm. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce water usage, yet is still often neglected. At the very least, the prudent farmer will want to invest in one of the many meteorology apps [2] available.

 

Soil moisture content can be gauged simply by the look and feel of the dirt at various depths within the root zone, or by using any of a wide variety of electronic meters. Which type of meter is suitable for you varies greatly depending on soil and other conditions; it’s advisable to email the customer service department of wherever you order irrigation supplies online from for guidance.

 

In addition, you should determine the soil’s water capacity before deciding how many kiloliters are necessary. Obviously, the soil around the root area acts as a water reservoir between irrigations or rains; any excess will be lost as runoff or percolate down to below the root zone. Sand and clay obviously have different levels of water retention; but be aware that the difference between various farmable soils may be a factor of three or more.

 

Irrigation System Design

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In a similar vein, any proper use of water in agriculture implies a uniform distribution of irrigation water. There’s no benefit in soaking some plants while others go dry. Good sprinkler system design will sometimes be sufficient in the case of systems operating at higher pressures, while drip-type agricultural irrigation equipment is an excellent solution for certain crops and circumstances.

 

In general, though, converting to a system operating at lower pressure tends to save water, especially in center pivot systems. [3] Modifying an existing system does cost money, but this is an investment a farmer will easily recoup in a drought year, and the outlay may be less than you think. Still, the principle of getting what you pay for applies, so going with a solid brand is important. Ask your dealer to compare prices of onga pumps to get a rough idea of onga pump cost.

 

The most efficient modern center-pivot systems are referred to as Low Energy Precision Application and Low Elevation Spray Application systems. Which is best suited to your situation depends on your circumstances, but both conserve irrigation water by reducing evaporation between the nozzle and the ground, applying water evenly and cutting down on water lost due to high winds. Additionally, operating at lower pressures results in significant electricity or fuel savings.

 

Other Steps You Can Take

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Aside from good sprinkler system design, other ways to reduce water usage can be found in traditional farming practices. Instead of allowing a field to lie fallow, consider sowing a non-intensive cover crop. In addition to benefits like fixing nitrogen, the root systems will anchor the topsoil against erosion and improve the soil’s water capacity for the next growing season.

 

Mulching with compost is another option that should certainly be considered in any hot, dry region. Covering the surface with a layer of this porous material significantly reduces evaporation as well as soil temperature. [4] Many other benefits are claimed, regardless of whether the farming modality is organic, biological or commercial.

 

One dry year can ruin the entire capital reserve of a farm. It only makes sense to see what steps we can take to ameliorate this risk, and we hope this article has provided you with some avenues to explore.

 

[1] Agricultural Water Conservation Practices – http://hcmud82.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Agricultural-Water-Conservation.pdf

 

[2] http://gizmodo.com/5651021/the-best-weather-apps

 

[3] Conservation Practices that Save: Irrigation Water Management – http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs143_023630.pdf

 

[4] Conserving Water Using Compost – http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/warrlocal/070415-conserve-water.pdf

 

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