Mobile drip irrigation combines center pivot irrigation and drip irrigation technology for agricultural irrigation and the benefits are literally saving farms. As the water crisis gets worse world wide more and more farms are taking acres out of production due to the lack of water.
Center pivot irrigation was invented in 1940, but did not see much use until the 1950s. It increased farm acreage and water use in many rural areas. To put this in perspective, in 1950 total irrigated cropland was only 1.7% of the farm land in the Untied States. Today agriculture accounts for approximately 80% of the U.S. consumptive water use and in 2012 USDA estimated 17% or 56 million acres of cropland is irrigated accounting for 50% of the value of all farm crops sold.
As groundwater levels decrease more farms are taking acreage out of production because they don’t have the water to produce food. In some farm areas growers who were use to 1000 plus gallons per minute of water are now experiencing less than half that water amount. When these growers convert their center pivot systems to mobile drip irrigation they use much less water and are able to get their acres back into production.
Higher Water Use Efficiency
Especially on windy days water evaporation from center pivot irrigation can amount to over 50%. Growers need to double the amount of water they apply to reach the desired amount. Additional potential water loss includes foliar losses, net canopy evaporation,, surface evaporation, surface runoff and deep percolation. Drip irrigation ensures water application is precise and uniformly distributed directly to the plants root zone and solves all the water efficiency issues described above. In addition fertilizer applied with the water stays in the root zone longer and the fertilizer efficiency is much higher.
Lower Impact Application
Apply water directly to the soil with dirp irrigation ensures little or no soil compaction. With traditional sprinklers over the season it is common to develop a hardpan which contributes to water runoff.
Water Penetrates Soil, Moving Dry Air Out
Traditional irrigation spread over the soil traps dry air in the soil. This reduces capillary action of water. When you apply water using a dripline, as the water moves through the soil profile dry air is able to escape out the top of the soil. If you wonder about the value of this, try holding your nose and taking a drink of water. If air can’t escape through your nose, you are able to drink little to no water. The benefit of this capillary action is the water moves across the soil through the root zone instead of leaching down past the roots.
Keeps Leaves Dry
Keeping leaves dry and reducing the damage caused by wet leaves has tremendous returns. Growers reduce insect infestation as well as reduce fungus and disease intrusion. Leaves don’t burn due to magnification of sunlight or fertilizer dropped on the leaves. This helps the overall vigor of the plants and leads to increased yields.
These are just four benefits of using mobile drip irrigation. You can watch a video of Monty Tetter and me dicussing all the benefits here.
Often when considering conservation over traditional methods the benefits are years after making the change. In the case of mobile drip irrigation we see two big sustainable benefits. There is no need to discard the center pivot you invested in, and the reduced amount of water to farm puts acres of farmland back into production right away.