- Conservation Tillage
Conservation tillage is defined as any minimal tillage system that leaves enough crop residue behind to cover at least 30% of the soil surface. This practice reduces soil erosion, conserves soil moisture, mitigates soil temperature fluctuations in the arable soil depth, and reduces the costs of soil preparation. In general, no-till farming is considered the most effective system for soil conservation.
- Go Organic
Many organic farming practices such as building organic matter in the soil, planting cover crops, using organic mulches, and shielding productive fields by strategic plantings of trees and perennial plants directly contribute to water conservation, whether by increasing the soil’s moisture holding capacity or by reducing the effect of evaporative loss. One study from The Rodale Institute found that organic fields hold more water during droughts, while 15-20% more water seeps down to the aquifer under organic fields than under conventional fields.
- Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that aims to produce food while restoring a natural local ecosystem. Specific goals are an increase in biodiversity, soil enrichment, support of local watersheds, and support for the health of livestock and wildlife. Regenerative agriculture focuses first and foremost on soil health rather than the choice of specific crops and seeds. This kind of holistic view of agriculture and ecosystem and soil health should improve field and crop resilience during stressful conditions - particularly during droughts.
- Capture and store rainwater
During seasons when rainfall is close to normal, it’s convenient to consider installing reservoirs or rain catchment systems to help see you through the occasional dry season. But even during periods of extended drought, there are occasional brief ruptures of precipitation, marked by intense downpours and floods. When the dry weather returns in a few days or weeks, it’s too late to wonder about how to save that bounty. The best time to install irrigation reservoirs and collection structures is now. When the weather is dry, take advantage of the downtime to prepare when the rains return. When the weather is good, get your systems in place while there’s still plenty of rain to fill them up.
A well-built irrigation reservoir can extend your irrigation capabilities significantly. A single, 40-acre reservoir with an average depth of 8 feet can hold over 104 million gallons. The key is to make sure your reservoir doesn’t fall victim to the same inefficiencies that plague irrigation in general. First and foremost, eliminate issues with seepage by lining your reservoir with a durable, impermeable geomembrane liner. BTL Liners is a pioneer in the industry and has decades of experience lining irrigation ponds for farmers around the world. Give us a call at 541-447-0712 and we’re happy to chat with you about your vision and your challenges. www.btlliners.com
- Tailwater Return
At the most basic level, tailwater return systems catch runoff at the low end of the field and pump it back to the top of the field for reuse. Specific elements may include ditches to collect runoff, waterways such as canals or pipes to convey water to a central area, one or more storage reservoirs, pumps, a power unit, and pipes to draw water into the irrigation mechanism. Tailwater reuse can be a valuable tool to improve irrigation efficiency, but tailwater can bring along some problems of its own, such as fertilizer overload, increasing salinity, and soil erosion. Ideally, tailwater runoff wouldn’t exist, since that represents an excess amount of valuable water applied that can’t be used.
- Improved furrows
Furrows are useful in advancing irrigation water throughout the field, whether the method is basic flooding or modern sprinkler systems. They direct the flow of water evenly between rows and ensure that it does not pool in forgotten corners. It may seem simplistic but even something as simple as firming (packing) irrigation furrows can improve irrigation performance by reducing infiltration along the path. Improved distribution and higher water efficiency are the benefits.
It seems like such a simple thing, but in all the pressures of a drought, concern about your crop health, your water supplies, the decisions to be made about next year, it’s easy to let the little things slip by. But take a moment to look around. Make sure you’re not losing water in the small places. Irrigation pipes, damaged or blocked equipment, poorly performing equipment. Performing regular maintenance and keeping up with repairs can make a difference in the success of your water efficiency strategy.