Four Benefits of Mobile Drip Irrigation

Published online: Oct 21, 2020 News Richard Restuccia
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Source: Jain Irrigation

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 worldwide, 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 percent of the farmland in the U.S. Today, agriculture accounts for approximately 80 percent of U.S. consumptive water use. In 2012, the USDA estimated 17 percent, or 56 million acres, of cropland was irrigated, accounting for 50 percent 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 areas, growers who were used to 1,000-plus gallons per minute of water now have access to less than half that. 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.

 

  1. Higher Water Use Efficiency

Especially on windy days, water evaporation from center pivot irrigation can amount to over 50 percent. Growers need to double the amount of water they apply in order for the desired amount to reach the plant. 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 plants’ root zone—solving all the water efficiency issues described above. In addition, fertilizer applied with the water stays in the root zone longer, making fertilizer efficiency much higher.

  1. Lower-Impact Application

Applying water directly to the soil with drip irrigation ensures little or no soil compaction. With traditional sprinklers, it is common to develop a hardpan over the course of a growing season, which contributes to water runoff. 

  1. 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 water is appplied 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 unable to drink much water. The benefit of this capillary action is that the water moves across the soil through the root zone instead of leaching down past the roots.

  1. Leaves Stay Dry

Reducing the damage caused by wet leaves has tremendous returns. Growers reduce insect infestation as well as 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. Often, when considering conservation over traditional methods, the benefits are seen years after making the change. In the case of mobile drip irrigation, we see two big sustainable benefits: there is no need to discard an already-present center pivot, and the reduced amount of water necessary to farm puts acres of farmland back into production right away.