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Ten Water Conservation Tips for

Farmers
Agriculture uses an estimated 70% of the freshwater withdrawals
globally and 40% of freshwater withdrawals in the United States. With
severe droughts, shrinking reservoirs, and freshwater shortages in
some areas of the US, water conservation is as important as ever for
farmers. Here are 10 water conservation ideas that can minimize
water waste. By Caroline Plouff

Control Phreatophytes

Phreatophytes are plants such as the Russian Olive, tamarisk, willows, and
cottonwood. According to Colorado State Universitys website: phreatophytes can
consume significant quantities of water through evapotranspiration, reducing the
availability of water to a cropping system and its users. These plants can be
reduced or removed through a variety of methods including chemical or mechanical.

Low-Energy Spray Irrigation

The US Geological Survey suggests using a Low Energy Precision Application


(LEPA) center-pivot system to gently spray water very close to the ground. This
method can increase irrigation efficiency from 60% (for traditional spray irrigation) to
over 90%.

Irrigation Scheduling

Scheduling irrigation based on soil-plant or atmosphere measurements can


decrease water use while improving yields. Software programs can collect weather
data including local temperature, rainfall, humidity, and crop evapotransporation to
provide recommendations for optimal irrigation scheduling. The University of
Minnesota provides an extensive guide on irrigation scheduling using the
checkbook method.

Drip Irrigation

According to Big Picture Agriculture, drip irrigation conserves 50 to 70 percent


more water than traditional methods while increasing crop production by 20 to 90
percent. Colorado State Universitys website explains that drip irrigation provides a
desirable balance of water and air in the soil that promotes plant growth while
minimizing runoff and evaporation.

Black Polyethylene Plastic Film

Laying black polyethylene plastic film around certain crops will prevent surface
evaporation, control weeds, and keep the soil warm at night. This can save 25
percent in water requirements. Black polyethylene film of 1 to 1.5 millimeters in
thickness is adequate although it may need to be replaced after one season.

Laser Leveling

Using laser-controlled land leveling equipment can ensure the fields are the ideal
slope depending on the type of irrigation used. According to the Texas Water
Development Board: With sprinkler systems, a perfectly level field conserves water
by reducing runoff, allowing uniform distribution of water. Furrow irrigation systems
need a slight but uniform slope to use water most efficiently. Laser leveling can
reduce water use by 20-30% and increase crop yields by 10-20%.

Rainwater Catchment from a


High Tunnel

Iowa State Universitys website describes how to install a catchment system to


collect rainwater. A 30 by 96 foot hoop house can collect up to 28,000 gallons of
water per season and a 1/2 inch of rainfall can fill two 500 gallon tanks.

Use a Water Flow Meter to


Measure Water Usage

Peter Drucker famously said what gets measured, gets managed. Monitoring how
much water is being used in real time with water flow meters can help farmers
determine irrigation efficiency and improve water management.

Tail water Return Systems

Tail water return systems catch runoff at the low end of the field and pumps it back
to the top of the field for reuse. This system may include ditches to collect the
runoff, waterways to convey water to a central area, a reservoir, a pump, a power
unit, and a pipeline. You can view a diagram of a tail water return system here.

Improved Furrows

The California Department of Water Resources cites improved furrows as a


recommended water conservation method and the University of Nebraska website
states that firming irrigation furrows can improve irrigation performance. According to
a UNL report, if the infiltration rate is reduced, then additional water is available to
advance further down the furrow. The result is faster advance time to the end of the
field, improved water distribution and decreased potential for deep percolation at the
head end of the field.