Growing can’t happen without water. But the opposite can be true: agricultural enterprises can’t run on too much water.
Adequate water usage with irrigation has a huge impact on us growers for a couple big reasons. On the one hand, we need enough to maintain crop health and consistent growth. On the other, we need to keep water costs down wherever we can. Not to mention: excessive water usage can negatively affect topsoil, crop quality and yields. With more and more areas experiencing drought, water conservation is not only ethical and better for the environment but it’s wise from a business perspective.
Drought is expected to worsen in certain areas and become a new problem in others. The ability to cut down on water usage with irrigation will be an essential part of operations in the coming decades. All growers need access to water, and we dread when drought comes around— but overusing can bring its own issues regarding crop health, soil health, overhead costs, conservation and more.
For growers looking to cut down on water, here are some practical approaches that won’t put a dent in crop quality, yields or your bottom line.
Time your waterings
When the grind of the season hits, sometimes irrigation just needs to happen when it needs to happen— which is sometimes immediately right on the spot, no matter the time of day. But, if you can manage, scheduled irrigation can be an immense boon to your business. You save money, conserve water through drought and your crops (and profits) still get precisely what they need.
During the height of summer with full sun— or if growing in hot, dry, arid regions— irrigate only in the mornings or the evenings. You’ll find that direct sun and air can soak irrigation right out of the ground before it even finds plant roots, especially at full noon regardless of the irrigation setup you have.
Irrigate crops that are especially prone to waterborne diseases in the morning rather than the evening. As the sun rises, excess moisture will evaporate off plants but may linger on leaves overnight and increase disease vectors if irrigating in the evening. Better yet, install a timed irrigation system. Have your setup run at the perfect set times without any oversight and suit it to your specific crops’ needs. An irrigation professional can help you implement timed systems.
Know your land: soil test
Have you taken a close look at your soil? Knowing every acre of your land can help you cut down on water use and costs, specifically by studying soil composition. Some areas may have soil types that are more water absorbent and retaining (such as loam) or be in more low-lying areas, making them perpetually wetter than usual. Others may be more compact and require a little extra irrigation love.
Some setups can allow you to tailor water usage to every acre’s irrigation needs, emitting more moisture for the problem spots while cutting down drastically on moisture in soil-absorbent or low-lying areas. The only way to know is through thorough soil testing, which can be acutely useful when logged in with other minute farm data.
An agronomist, consultant or irrigation professional can then help advise you on soil testing and acre-by-acre irrigation needs, aiding you in getting your water-to-soil needs assessed just right.
With linear move and center pivot irrigation: turn off nozzles
For large scale growers using sizable linear or pivot irrigation, not all nozzles, sprayers or sprinklers need to run every time you irrigate. In fact, some growers have found they’ve conserved surprising amounts of water and costs by turning off (and on again, under new circumstances) various nozzles with astounding benefits. And not only for conservation and overhead— but also for upping the quality of specific crop areas (especially in spots where waterlogging occurs due to unnecessary overhead watering or overlap).
Some growers point out that specifically turning off nozzles or sprinklers at the very ends of center pivot or linear move irrigation can save massive amounts of water and money. Again, an irrigation professional well-acquainted with these – and many other systems – can be of huge help determining where overhead irrigation has excess overlaps, often found between different nozzles on the same pivot or line. Perhaps there are sizable overlaps between two completely different pivots or lines.
Transition to drip irrigation
Sometimes the best step towards water conservation is a complete system upgrade. In areas that are experiencing drought with increasing severity and frequency, more and more growers are adopting drip irrigation, a cost- and water-efficient method for saving on overhead while optimizing moisture uptake in crops of all kinds.
Drip irrigation slowly seeps water into the media right at the base of plants, saturating soil near their roots and cutting down on loss of water (and thus money) due to evaporation. This loss occurs comparatively more often in overhead irrigation types, especially in hot seasons or dry climates. Though drip may have more ongoing and labor-related costs, the savings on water— and the boost in crop growth and quality— can make up for this overhead. What’s more, in some instances drip can be employed any time of day and still be incredibly efficient and water-optimal if run under dense crop foliage. In other cases, it can still be set up with timers at ideal day periods for the best water retention.
In the busy day-to-day of any growing operation, awareness of water use can fall by the wayside. Even so, it still may lead to unnecessarily high irrigation overhead and water loss— and even diminished crop quality and reduced profits. To get the highest profit margins however, you can build ways to cut down on water usage right into your daily operation with these water-saving tips, and without losing time, effort, labor and yet more overhead. An irrigation professional can also help you decide the best system or assist you with water-optimizing changes, every step of the way.
Feel free to give one of our irrigation professionals a call today at (559) 793-7149 for help adjusting, updating, installing or expanding your system today. Or, fill out our contact form by clicking below.