Water-efficient Practices & Innovations
Hear the word “drone” today and you’ll probably picture some kind of flying weapon, snooping or raining Hellfire missiles from above. But in reality, the first drones you’re likely to see actually in use are more likely to be closer to crop dusters, buzzing over farms. Rather than taking pictures and videos of people, they’ll be surveying fields, using their high-resolution sensors to improve crop yield and decrease agricultural water and chemical use.
Every crop is different! It goes without saying, but grapes are not tomatoes, and tomatoes are not corn. There are hundreds of different kinds of farms, ranging from trees to roots (and that’s not even including livestock and ranching). Each crop needs to be measured differently to generate actionable data. There is no universal crop survey solution, and it will probably be specialists in each particular crop type who ultimately deliver solutions to farmers.
Some farmers may be inclined to set an automated irrigation schedule and let it run regardless of the weather. Adjusting irrigation systems to work in better harmony with natural precipitation takes more work, but it is an inarguable way to save significant amounts of water. There are numerous weather apps available that provide up-to-the-second precipitation reports. Using these along with irrigation systems can help save water, which will save farmers money and reduce wear and tear on systems.
Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to a plant’s roots, reducing the evaporation that happens with spray watering systems. Timers can be used to schedule watering for the cooler parts of the day, further reducing water loss. Properly installed drip irrigation can save up to 80 percent more water than conventional irrigation, and can even contribute to increased crop yields.
Avoiding or mitigating runoff can save millions of gallons of water over the course of a growing season. Runoff can occur due to overwatering, poor soil and other factors, and in any case is a natural result of irrigation to some degree. Recycling runoff not only helps save water, it helps save entire ecosystems. Agricultural runoff typically contains large amounts of chemicals that can seep into groundwater and pollute rivers, streams and other bodies of water. The costs are significant, but so are the benefits.