An annual check-up

02/01/2009 02:00:00 AM

By Tom Burfield

No matter what you grow or where you grow it, irrigation takes a big bite out of your annual budget, and inefficient watering can take a big bite out of your crop.

In fact, 90 percent of an agricultural business’ electricity bill likely is associated with water use, according to the Web site, http://www.flexyourpower.com, an energy efficiency campaign in California.

Growers and agriculture experts agree that the key to keeping irrigation costs under control is applying the right amount of water for the crop you’re growing and the climatic conditions under which you’re growing it.

By introducing simple energy efficiency improvements in your processing and pumping facilities, you can reduce energy costs by 10 percent, according to the Web site.

Aside from the cost and efficiency factors, shrinking water supplies due to drought and urban sprawl are reasons to monitor your irrigation system carefully.

“The trend toward irrigated agriculture seeing reductions in their water supplies is pretty universal,” says Tom Trout, water research leader for the Agriculture Agricultural Research Service in Fort Collins, Colo.

The amount of water growers need differs by soil type and crop, Trout says.

If you’re growing a standard field crop, such as alfalfa, overwatering won’t make much difference. But applying too much water to processing tomatoes, especially late in the season, can result in watery fruit that brings in less money.

Crops have needs
The best thing you can do to meet water demands and reduce use is to simply meet the crop’s needs, and those are related to weather, says Fedro Zazueta, professor of agriculture and biological engineering at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville.

“It is essentially weather that determines how much a given crop will use,” he says, but it’s up to you to deliver the water.

The type of irrigation system you use has everything to do with how appropriate your water application is, Trout says.
From an efficiency standpoint, drip irrigation holds the greatest potential, but sprinklers can have “reasonably high” efficiency, he says.

“Surface irrigation has the lowest potential efficiency,” Trout says.

He emphasizes that he is talking “potential” efficiency and points out that “anybody can mess up any system.”

Dual principles
Zazueta preaches the dual principles of efficiency and uniformity.


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