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UCCE Sonoma County

Overhead irrigation holds water-saving potential for California farms

In California, 40 percent of agriculture is still irrigated by pouring water onto farmland, a much less efficient practice that drip and overhead irrigation. But those numbers are changing, reported Matt Weiser on Water Deeply

Weiser interviewed UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell about the water-saving potential of using overhead irrigation, a system that is popular in other parts of the nation and world, but only used on 2 percent of California farmland. Mitchell was the primary author of a research article in the current issue of California Agriculture journal, which said that water and money can be saved using overhead irrigation in production of wheat, corn, cotton, onion and broccoli.

Mitchell said California researchers are looking more closely at overhead irrigation because they anticipate future constraints on agriculture, including water and labor shortages. Additionally, the system is ideal for combining with conservation agriculture systems, which include the use of cover crops, leaving crop residue on the soil surface and reducing tillage disturbance of the soil. The combination of overhead irrigation and conservation agriculture practices reduces water use, cuts back on dust emissions, increases yield and improves the soil.

Weisner asked how overhead irrigation could be as efficient as drip, when people typically see "water spraying everywhere from these roving sprinklers high off the ground."

Mitchell said farmers use pressure regulators and a variety of nozzles on hoses hanging down from the system to deliver water at precisely the rate and location where it is needed through the season.

"So, they're not spraying water. These are low to the ground, and there are various delivery nozzle practices that can be used," Mitchell said.

Overhead irrigation application methods and locations of application devices change as the plant grows. (Photo: California Agriculture journal)
 
News coverage of the overhead irrigation research published in the current issue of California Agriculture journal also appeared in:
 
Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Comments:

1.
I'm a little surprised that overhead irrigation can help save water. However, I also wasn't aware that different nozzles are used at different times of the growing season. As long as the nozzles are changed to increase efficiency I suppose it doesn't matter if drip or overhead irrigation is used.

Posted by James Bergman on October 10, 2016 at 2:58 PM

2.
Wow! I’m just surprised to know that an overhead irrigation system can actually save water. Thank you for sharing this article.

Posted by KenWilson on January 31, 2017 at 3:42 AM

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