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Irrigating Your Food to Save Big!

Updated: Jun 18



According to the USDA, the irrigation of agriculture accounts for about 80% of the nation's water consumption even 90% in most western states. Worldwide agriculture accounts for about 70% of water usage. With agriculture consistently being the highest consumer of water globally and in the U.S., it is our duty as an innovative agtech company to consider the implications that technology can contribute to the conservation of water. Our recent blog post, "Is there enough food & water for your children?", speaks as to why this is so critical to our future.


Over the coming weeks, we'll introduce our smart orchard project and dive into the complexities facing orchard growers. Fundamentally water, weather, nutrients, & labor are the core inputs affecting crop production. As water is so critical, this week we'll provide context to the non-growers out there on different types of irrigation, as you'll soon see that our smart orchard is using several different types.


One facet of the Smart Orchard Project includes irrigation data. As discussed in a variety of our previous blogs, water consumption is a tremendous factor in agriculture and has an extreme impact on our environment. As a company collaborating with WSU and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, we are applying data collection, analysis, and decision making to validate how an orchard can become increasingly 'smart' in its resource management.


Join us on a recent trip to WSU's Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center.


Drip Irrigation:

Drip irrigation tends to use comparatively smaller amounts of water since the water doesn't have to travel through the air like in sprinkler irrigation, resulting in fewer opportunities for water loss from evaporation. Due to our connections with land-grant universities like WSU, we have valuable access to research done by Professor Troy Peters on the implications of irrigation. In a past research article conducted by Professor Peters entitled Drip Irrigation for Agriculture Producers, he found that drip irrigation is the most efficient type of irrigation. It is typically 90% efficient compared to about 70% for sprinklers, and 50% for surface irrigation. He also happened to find that drip irrigation usually operates at much lower pressures of 8-20 psi, compared to sprinkler systems, which operate at 45-70 psi. This ultimately results in less pumping power used and significant energy savings for your business, alongside a significant contribution toward saving our planet's resources. Not only does drip irrigation help conserve water, and save you money on water and electricity, but it could also save you time and money with regards to labor! Drip irrigation is often automated since this type of irrigation system is already in place and ready to use, giving growers control over when to irrigate and how much water is being used coincidentally giving the grower more control over plant growth and behaviors!

Pros:

Reduced leaching prevents loss of nutrients

• Can be used in asymmetrically-shaped fields

• Minimizes water evaporation

Cons:

• Frequent maintenance is required

• Machinery can often destroy or cut through irrigation tubing

• Insects and pests can also destroy irrigation tubing

• Potential for water leakage

Sprinkler Irrigation:

Even though sprinkler irrigation can be less efficient than drip irrigation, there are times when drip irrigation isn't a feasible method of watering your crop. Many growers use both drip & sprinkler irrigation methods, as sprinklers can be used for large flat areas that need a substantial amount of water, whereas drip irrigation is best used when watering at a slower pace or in specific areas.

Pros:

• Water can be applied at lower rates compared to other irrigation methods

• Systems can be programmed to water at certain times

• Systems can be programmed to start and stop at specific angles

• Efficient on rough soils

Cons:

• Scalding can possibly occur to crop

• Maintenance of sprinkler nozzles is required in order to avoid clogging

• Ruts can occur in certain soils from center pivot systems used in row crops

Overhead Irrigation:

Overhead sprinklers are most often used to cool trees, and are heavily used once air temperature hits 90 degrees and above. This helps reduce tree stress and manage sunburn using an evaporative cooling approach.

Pros:

• Large area of coverage

• Lower maintenance costs

• Long lasting product life cycle

• Visible confirmation that system is working

Cons:

• Water evaporation potential is very high

• Waters weeds

• Chance of runoff of water

• Chance of erosion

Furrow Irrigation:

Furrow Irrigation is a type of irrigation where the grower uses a plow to build evenly spaced trenches. The water is then pumped through pipes that have holes in them to obtain the desired water flow rates within the furrows (trenches). Most of the time, a trial and error stage is needed in order to optimize water flow rates.

Pros:

Relatively low investment

The water still can be used even though it contains particles

Water isn't directly applied to the plant, ultimately avoiding scalding of the crop

Cons:

• Land needs to be graded in order to have consistent distribution of water

• Extremely difficult to apply small amounts of water; doesn't pertain to conservation

• Furrow Irrigation isn't adequate for sandy soils as the water soaks in too fast to reach the entire crop

Subsurface Irrigation:

Subsurface Irrigation is conducted by placing pipes beneath the crops through ditches. This type of irrigation is permanently placed below the root line to deliver water to your crop at a predetermined depth.

Pros:

• Can also be utilized as a drainage system

• High reduction of water evaporation

• Less frequent need for maintenance in comparison to other methods

• Good for soils with low water retention

Cons:

• Requires large source of water during growing season

• If something does break, maintenance is extreme

• Most effective in uniform topographies




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