- Usage Monitoring
At the most basic level, the only realistic way to evaluate whether water-saving strategies are working is to directly monitor usage. Water flow meters can track application in real time and give bottom-line feedback about whether total usage is improving.
- Drip Irrigation
Using drip irrigation decreases runoff and wind or evaporative losses, compared to traditional high powered sprinkler systems. This targeted delivery reduces over-watering and promotes a healthy balance of air and water in the soil, which in turn may boost crop production up to 90 percent, all while increasing efficiency by up to 80 percent.
- Irrigation using LEPA and LESA
Low Energy Precision Application and Low Elevation Spray Application are systems that fit somewhere between drip and traditional sprinkler methods but offer a cost-effective option for farmers who already use center-pivot sprinkler systems. Existing systems can be readily converted using a kit and the new configuration requires much less energy to operate. In a converted system, water pressure is substantially lower, drops are closer together and water is released very close to the soil, minimizing wind drift and evaporative loss. This method can boost irrigation efficiency from 60% (for traditional spray irrigation) to over 90%.
- Scheduling Irrigation by Time of Day
Even when the most effective irrigation tools are being used, evaporative loss can still reduce efficiency. For above ground applications, it’s still most efficient to water crops in the morning or in the evening when there will be less water loss from evapotranspiration particularly in hot and dry weather. Fungus is sometimes a concern for this watering schedule, but irrigation systems that apply water below the leaf canopy can virtually eliminate that concern.
- Scheduling Irrigation with Moisture sensors
Even the most basic soil moisture sensors can help farmers improve irrigation efficiency while improving crop yields. In small operations, farmers may monitor sensors manually and compare that data to local forecasts before making decisions about how much and when to irrigate. For larger operations, sensor systems are available that can measure moisture variations from field to field or even row to row. This information allows farmers to apply irrigation only when and where it’s needed and allows them to respond to excessive dry spots before irreversible damage appears.
- High tech Irrigation Scheduling
The newest irrigation systems use networked sensors that calibrate soil moisture and temperature at a very fine scale, Specialized software correlates that information with local weather data and both near and long-term forecasts, generating recommendations for optimal irrigation scheduling. In some systems, fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals can be applied automatically as part of a customized, centrally controlled irrigation schedule. Reduced water usage, higher crop yields, and lower chemical costs are impressive benefits of these sophisticated systems.
- Laser Leveling
Fields need to be level for irrigation to be effective. In uneven or sloped fields, water pools in lower areas and may not reach crops at all where the ground rises. To avoid these problems, farmers have leveled land throughout history. Today, laser-controlled land leveling equipment allows farmers to set up fields with the ideal slope for whatever irrigation system they’re using, whether it’s a uniform low-grade slope for furrow irrigation, or a perfectly flat field for sprinkler irrigation. Optimal conditions achievable through laser leveling can reduce water use by 20-30% and increase crop yields by 10-20%.
- Drought-Tolerant Crops
Some farmers default to annual crops during times of water scarcity, since the lower capital expenditures reduce risk in the case of crop loss. However, it may also be worth considering that perennial crops, and particularly bushes and trees, often require less water once they’re established. Since the water they consume goes entirely to fruiting, some varieties may represent a particularly efficient crop option if farmers can get them established when there are sufficient water reserves.
Hundreds of drought-resistant or drought-tolerant varieties of almost any fruit, vegetable, grain or flower have been developed through selective breeding or gene modification and are widely available. Of course, crops native to the area will usually be more tolerant to weather variations over time, including periodic droughts.
- Compost and Mulch
Mulching is a time-honored practice that is effective in minimizing surface evaporation, controlling weeds and even extending the growing season by keeping soil warm at night. This practice can reduce water requirements by as much as 25 percent even while improving soil health
- Cover Crops
Cover crops protect the soil by preventing erosion from wind and water. As their roots spread, they also keep the soil friable so it can absorb and retain moisture more effectively. Cover crops are also widely used to improve the availability of certain nutrients that are critical to healthy crops.