Image of an irrigation system watering crops.

Irrigation Uses and Benefits

There's a lot to consider when buying an irrigation system for your farm or ranch. Dive in to the details with this helpful introduction.

Are you in the market for an irrigation system? With so many options available, it’s important to consider which system works best in your region. Here are a few things to take into consideration when making that purchase.

Understanding the Water Cycle

Before buying an irrigation system, you’ll need to determine the amount of water your acreage will require in order to keep your crops healthy throughout the growing season. Once you understand how much water enters and exits the soil and plants, you’ll then need to learn about how water interacts with the atmosphere, soil and crops. Evapotranspiration (ET) is the process of water vapor transferring from the soil or plant surfaces into the air, and this information will be key to selecting your irrigation system.

Calculating Your Irrigation System’s Load

Figuring out your ET load can sometimes be a complicated process. You need to take into consideration the rate of evaporation in your area, the predicted humidity and temperature, wind speed and amount of sunshine expected in the coming weeks. The good news is that irrigation suppliers are a great resource for estimating your water load, since it’s their job to get this figure right every time a system is purchased.

Remember to consider the watering needs of all the crops in rotation across the years before you make a purchase. It’s best to go with a system that can deliver more water daily than will be required in the event that a drought hits, too. That way you can up the load to keep your crops healthy when rainfall is scarce.

Here’s a list of popular industrial irrigation systems and what each one can do for your farm:

Surface irrigation. A gravity-driven water distribution system that requires no mechanical pump.

Localized irrigation. A low pressure water distribution network of pipes that delivers water individually to each plant.

Drip irrigation. A device that sends water through pipes and hoses to crops, slowly dripping water over a period of time to the plant’s root structure. This is a good option if you want to minimize evaporation and water runoff.

Sprinkler irrigation. High pressure, overhead guns spray water evenly over an area from either a central location or from moving platforms across acreage. This option works for areas with reliable water sources. One interesting note on sprinkler irrigation systems: these have been used to protect seedlings and young plants from freezing in the spring, but this must be done with careful attention to night time low temperatures.

Center pivot irrigation. This system delivers water through a center mounted carriage to sprinkler guns, watering a perimeter of acreage. It’s regularly used in flat regions of farm land.

Lateral move irrigation. Similar in design to center pivot systems, these mobile irrigation systems deliver water through a series of guns and carriage-mounted pipes that are connected to a hose. They require more labor to connect and disconnect hoses across the course of the acreage, but the real benefit is that they cover more land and allow you to grow more crops than center pivot systems.

Sub-irrigation. Best used in areas with high water tables, this irrigation system sends water to crops by pumping it to the surface and then distributing it through small dams to control water flow. Canals, channels and finally ditches deliver the water which then saturates into the crop’s soil.

Manual irrigation. Very labor intensive and expensive, this method of irrigation uses manual labor to carry water directly to crops.

Irrigation as Drought Insurance

The upfront costs for purchasing an irrigation system can be expensive, add to that the assembly and maintenance costs, pumping systems and permitting red tape, and it’s easy to see why some famers decide to go without. But if you take the time and invest the money into an irrigation system, you’ll experience the benefits of this added equipment.

While you’re considering protecting your crops from drought, take some time and review your optional farm/ranch insurance coverage. We offer optional coverage that provides for the replacement cost of irrigation systems when pre-specified conditions are met, and that can help protect your investments from the unexpected.

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