How to Achieve Efficient Crop Irrigation
To achieve efficient crop irrigation, the focus should be on uniformity. The crops in different areas should receive adequate amounts of water during each irrigation session. This can be accomplished by choosing the irrigation system that is appropriate for your operation.
To do that, knowledge about the following is usually required:
- Plant species
- Growth stages of your crops
- The plants’ root structure
- Soil composition & land formation
- Knowledge of equipment & system design
Often, the goal is to achieve adequate watering of the plants while minimising waste (and making the best use of fuel, energy and other resources). That’s because in typical irrigation operations, much of the water will be lost due to wind, evaporation and water run-off. Also, the plants and soil might not be able to hold much water (the water gets carried away along with the essential nutrients).
Moreover, the irrigation system should have enough power to deliver adequate amounts of water to further areas. The sprinklers should also be strategically placed to maximise the reach of water. The proper choice of flow rate and pressure can help accomplish this feat.
In other words, it’s about having mastery of the terrain and the tools you have (or will have). Studying the variables (e.g. upcoming weather, development of various plant species) requires additional investments in time, effort and money. But successful planning and execution can lead to increased productivity and higher returns on investment.
The importance of proper crop irrigation
Why make the irrigation more efficient? First, you’ll be able to grow more pastures and crops. This will occur because your crops receive enough water (in a uniform way). In addition, delivering just the right amount of water will prevent nutrient runoff. This is also good for the soil because you minimise soil erosion.
Effective and efficient crop irrigation also provides some predictability in your yields and meeting seasonal market demands. Rainfall events may not come when you need them the most. This makes your crop growth and yield unpredictable. But with good irrigation, the yields don’t deviate much and you’ll be able to meet market demands.
With consistent irrigation, the plants will be able to grow faster (thereby leading to more frequent harvests and planting). You can also better plan the season because there’s a higher level of predictability in your yields (and when to harvest). You can then better allocate your time and financial resources in your farm management.
Aside from higher and predictable yields, your farm’s produce also become higher quality. That’s because lack of water can induce stress to the plants (they will try to compensate for lack of water by undergoing physical and chemical changes). That stress might then affect the quality of the produce.
Another benefit of good irrigation is you can better make use of your other resources and investments such as fertilisers. To allow for higher and better absorption, often the fertilisers should be “watered down” into the ground. As a result, good fertiliser action requires good irrigation. Instead of wasting several kilograms of fertiliser each season, your plants get more. Also, fertiliser runoff gets minimised (before they end up in creeks and rivers).
All these benefits result from just having an effective irrigation system in your farm. You also reap the benefits season after season which can have a cumulative effect on your bottom line. You’ll be able to invest in other technologies that would further increase your productivity and ROI.
How to choose an irrigation system for your land
As mentioned earlier, knowledge about your plant and soil is required so you can select the appropriate irrigation system for your operation. For instance, you also have to consider your land’s topography. Various elevations and contours can make water delivery far from being uniform and consistent.
In these cases, you might need to choose pumps with higher pressures or flow rates. Other farmers also strategically place the sprinklers and nozzles for maximum and uniform coverage. This requires testing though (e.g. placing catch cans in grid patterns) so farmers can quantify the volume of water each land section receives.
There are also different types of irrigation systems (with various specifications and capacities). This adds another level of complexity in selecting the proper irrigation system for your application. For instance, the size of your land may dictate how you choose an irrigation system. For huge tracts of land, you might also need a booster pump to increase your coverage and make the water delivery more uniform.
Moreover, there are also seemingly trivial features which can affect that uniformity. For example, there will be times when the water pressure is not high enough. This affects the flow rate and volume of water being delivered. In these scenarios, it’s recommended to halt the operations. But when the appropriate level pressure is back, the operations should resume (some pumps have this automatic feature).
Selection of an irrigation system may also heavily depend on your desired produce. For instance, low-flow irrigation systems are generally used for many vegetable crops, vineyards and orchards. These systems perform frequent and slow applications of water (minimising impact and damage to plants). On vineyards and orchards, stationary sprinkler systems are also being used to protect plants from frost and cooling. These systems are also generally used in turf and landscaping.
Other types of irrigation systems are also designed according to the specific applications and farms’ requirements. For instance, there are handmove sprinkler systems good for small and irregular areas. However, these systems have high labour requirements (which might be a constraint in many huge farms).
In general, the choice will vary from one farm to another. That’s because of the variation in crops, soil types, land area, climate and other factors. The right pump pressure and flow rate is also important in maximising productivity and crop yield.
Other notes to achieve efficient crop irrigation
Optimising the effectiveness and efficiency of crop irrigation often means preventing the overwatering or underwatering of the crops. Crop water requirements should be estimated beforehand. The irrigation schedule should also be properly planned according to the plants’ abilities (how efficiently the plant can use water) and in their different growth stages.
Many experienced farmers also extensively study weather data (and consistently watch weather updates) so they can better plan the irrigation timing and schedule. Aside from monitoring the possible rainfall events, farmers also track the temperature and humidity levels. That’s because these parameters greatly affect the rate of water evaporation from the soil. High temperature levels often mean faster evaporation, thereby requiring a more urgent or frequent irrigation.
It’s a rigorous approach which can also require observing the plants. For example, the curling of the leaves means that the plants are experiencing stress (lack of water). Irrigation should be done as soon as possible when signs of plant stress start to appear.
It’s important to avoid under-watering to prevent reduction of yield and fruit quality. On the other hand, over-watering can result to higher operational costs (more water, pumping and labour required). Consequently, this leads to lower profits. In addition, over-watering can accelerate soil erosion and stimulate unwanted vegetative growth. Through the months and years these will have a cumulative effect to your expenses and profits.
Notice that the right economic decisions at the start (especially when choosing the right irrigation system and pump) can maximise rewards (higher yield) and minimise losses (loss of nutrients and waste of precious water). You optimise your return on investment which can allow you to further expand your operations. For instance, many farmers are able to use their less productive lands because of their reliable irrigation system. The lands become open for other purposes such as planting and tending for animals.
Proper and consistent irrigation also provides a higher level of predictability in your yields and operations. Often, the biggest enemy of farming is unpredictability. That’s because it makes farming and harvesting difficult to forecast and manage. This unpredictability also results to loss of yield and productivity.
But with consistency and predictability due to high performance irrigation systems and pumps, almost everything becomes easier to quantify and manage. Almost every square metre of your land is also productive because of uniform irrigation. This in turn increases your yield and giving higher returns to each litre of water you use.
It’s also our goal here at Truflo Pumping Systems. We’re dedicated to delivering reliable and high performance systems for agricultural applications. As a family-owned and operated business since the 1990s, we’ve been providing affordable irrigation systems that adhere to strict standards and specifications. Call us today at +61 2 6333 4500 if you require assistance in choosing an excellent irrigation pump system to maximise your farm yield.