Your best practice What does the future hold?

The next disruptive irrigation management technology ready to solve growers’ needs could be on the horizon. By Isaya Kisekka, PhD


limate variability, competition for water from other users (urban and environmental) and groundwater

depletion threaten sustainability of irrigated agriculture. To face these challenges, our industry must develop and adopt innovative irrigation technologies and management practices that optimize economic outcomes, while also minimizing environmental impact.

Lately, there is no shortage of irrigation technologies hitting the market each month. To get a glimpse of what is out there, I recommend visiting the annual Irrigation Show held each December, as well as other annual farm shows such as the World Ag Expo.

Isaya Kisekka explains to students how the small footprint cosmic ray measures soil water over a range of scales at the University of California, Davis research farm.

Changes since the 80s

Since the late 1980s, there has been high adoption of irrigation application technologies, specifically a shift from flood irrigation to pressurized systems. Two examples are the use of microirrigation in California (see fig. 1) and center pivot irrigation systems in the Ogallala Aquifer region of the U.S. High Plains. The high adoption of these irrigation systems can be attributed to government incentives but, more importantly, to their proven ability to enhance production or ease management. We are seeing increasing interest in mechanized sprinkler irrigation systems for some crops in California due to their proven ability to ease management. For example, growers can automatically control several center pivots using mobile apps or control drip irrigation blocks using web apps.

100 Gravity 80 60 40 20 0 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015

Figure 1. Irrigation system trends in California Source: Tindula, Orang & Snyder, 2013

28 Irrigation TODAY | April 2019 Sprinkler Drip Other

However, when it comes to irrigation scheduling, the story is very different. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Management Survey (formerly Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey), the adoption rates of advanced irrigation scheduling technologies are less than 21 percent (see fig. 2). I use the term “advanced irrigation scheduling” to refer to irrigation scheduling based on soil moisture sensors, evapotranspiration programs, plant-based sensors and crop simulation models. Over 70 percent still use traditional methods of irrigation scheduling such as observing crop conditions, soil feel, water delivery schedule or watching neighbors. The next USDA Irrigation and Water Management Survey will be released late this year or early 2020, and it will be interesting to see what has changed as more technologies get developed or refined.

Area irrigated by irrigation methods (%)

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