Did you know that the US is home to a staggering two million farms? Or that, on average, each one of these farms feeds up to 166 people each year?
For this reason, agriculture in the US accounts for about 80% of the nation’s water consumption. This goes up to 90% in many western states, where there’s a bigger concentration of farms.
The types of irrigation systems used are the main drivers of water usage in these lands.
With that said, it’s best you learn more about your irrigation system options if you plan to start your own farm. The same goes if you simply want to create a green space at home where you can relax.
To that end, we created this guide covering the key facts you need to know about irrigation systems. Read on to discover your primary options and what’s so good and not so good about them.
Surface irrigation, also known as flood irrigation, relies on gravity to distribute water. In the US, only an estimated 39% of irrigated croplands use this irrigation method. However, as much as 85% of the world’s irrigated lands rely on this approach.
With surface irrigation, you first apply water to a field, and you let that water advance across the land. The water may then pool or “pond” on the surface, or it may also run off the ground. In any case, the water spreads throughout the soil via channels and slopes.
What Makes Surface Irrigation a Great Method?
You don’t need fancy tools for surface irrigation, so it’s one of the lowest-cost methods out there. Since you apply the water straight to the surface of the soil, there’s also less evaporation. Moreover, it lets you harness rainwater, allowing you to save even more on your water bills.
What Are the Drawbacks of Surface Irrigation?
Surface irrigation systems can be labor-intensive as they rely on properly-shaped lands. For instance, a lack of channels or furrows can result in waterlogging. If this happens, your crops will receive too much water, and they will drown.
Surface irrigation also depends heavily on the terrain, especially slopes. Without a slight natural slope, gravity won’t be able to take its course. This can result in some areas of the soil not receiving an adequate supply of water.
Sprinkler irrigation delivers water overhead via a system that sprays water. In this case, the sprinkler system’s pipes draw water from a source, such as a municipal water line or a well. The water passes through the sprinkler heads that then break the flow into smaller drops.
Sprinkler systems are the most common water distribution method used in US farms. In 2018 alone, these systems irrigated 31.7 million acres in the open. Some 109,184 farms relied on these devices to water their crops.
Advantages of Sprinklers
Sprinkler irrigation systems are effective for watering small and large swathes of land. Their expansive coverage lets them irrigate acres of farms or even sports fields. They’re also adaptable to almost all terrain types, whether smooth, uniform, or unlevel.
Sprinkler irrigation systems are also effective for watering most row or field crops. The water they produce can also infiltrate most types of soils. However, they’re most ideal for soils with high infiltration rates, such as sandy soils.
Disadvantages of Sprinklers
Sprinkler system efficiency depends on water pressure and factors like wind and temperature. For example, low water pressure affects their drop size and rate; the lower it is, the bigger the spray drop sizes. Unfortunately, large spray drops can destroy sensitive crops such as lettuce.
High-pressure sprinklers can also lose up to 35% of water due to evaporation and winds. In such cases, you’d have to run the sprinklers for longer periods to compensate for the water losses. This then increases your water consumption, and consequently, your water bills.
Hard water may also increase your need for sprinkler repair and maintenance. For starters, hard water can leave sediment build-ups in the sprinkler heads. These mineral deposits can block the nozzles and prevent them from spraying water.
Over time, excessive clogs can create so much pressure within the sprinkler heads. The built-up pressure can then result in ruptures within the sprinkler hoses or pipes.
Drip, or trickle irrigation, also goes by the name “micro-irrigation.” It’s a watering method that allows for the precise application and control of water. With this, water drips slowly near crop and plant roots via a network of pipes, tubes, and valves.
What’s So Good About Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation is water-efficient as it you wouldn’t need to water the surface of the ground. So, there’s less evaporation that occurs, as the water seeps straight underground.
The precise targeting of drip irrigation also helps reduce weed growth. It can do so since most of the water flows into the roots of the plants you want to irrigate. The water doesn’t stray very far, so unwanted weeds are less likely to get the moisture they need.
What’s Not to Like With Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation systems require expert installation, making them more costly upfront. Improper installation can result in the inefficient spread of water. This, in turn, can trigger drought conditions that can force plants to grow shallow roots.
Drip irrigation systems are also prone to debris and mineral build-up. Because they rely on a maze of pipes and tubes, there are more parts for you to maintain. These components are also vulnerable to external forces, like lawn mowing activities.
Choose the Right Types of Irrigation Systems for Your Land
If you plan to grow various crops, then it might be a good idea to use at least two types of irrigation systems. For example, you can use surface irrigation on sloped areas and drip on more sensitive crops. The most important thing is to factor in your land’s terrain so that you can choose the right technology.
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