Extreme Drought Highlights the Need for Precision Irrigation


Acadian Industrial Textiles - Irrigation

Much of the western US is enduring another record drought, and this is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away.

According to the EPA, up to 70% of US land area experienced abnormally dry conditions from 2000 to 2020. Since last summer, drought conditions have continued to worsen, with nearly all of the High Plains and Western regions of the country and more than half of the South experiencing some level of drought.

How Precision Irrigation Helps Conserve Water

Precision irrigation helps growers use water more efficiently by bringing water and nutrients directly to the root of a plant, instead of to the soil. This ensures that the water is only consumed by the plant itself, cutting down on the waste of this valuable resource.

Most commonly, this is done through a drip irrigation system, with pumps and valves that can either be manually or automatically turned on and off. With this more efficient irrigation system in place, you can then monitor environmental parameters like temperature, humidity, and drought conditions to adjust your irrigation accordingly.

According to Growing Produce, one of the best ways to start prioritizing water efficiency now is to make small changes to your existing irrigation system, like fixing leaks. Tom Devol, Senior Manager of Field Outreach and Education, talks about the unseen impact of a leak at a pump station, saying, “You walk by it, you would say it’s nothing, just a little drip. Well that little drip was 10,000 gallons in one season. One little drip.”

Fixing leaks can also help with distribution uniformity (DU). Devol goes on to say, “Better uniformity means more consistent yields and maximizes water use and nutrient applications.”

Consider getting a professional DU evaluation to get a better understanding of how your system is working now and identify potential problems. While that will help with conserving water locally, you can also make environmentally friendly updates around your farm and in your daily life to live more sustainably.

Cause & Effect

Like many weather extremes, these long periods of extreme drought are made worse because of climate change.

The Environmental Defense Fund explains the connection like this:

“The excess heat now trapped in the climate system draws out more moisture from soils, thereby worsening drought conditions. Reduced snowpack volumes, earlier snowmelt, and changing precipitation patterns – also linked to climate change – exacerbate the water stress induced by droughts. And for numerous individual events around the world, scientists have attributed the increased likelihood and severity of droughts to human-driven climate change.”

With drought conditions expected to continue to be more extreme, conservation of water via intelligent irrigation is key to maximize the extremely valuable resource of water. Many growers are now turning to precision irrigation to help.

By working together to help combat climate change, we can help lessen the impact of weather extremes like droughts for all of us.